Teaching Resource Pack
Many people in our society base their decision making on the religious values and principles they hold. This is no different when families are asked to consider organ donation: they often wish to consult with religious authorities. It would then be of help to know a little about the attitude of various religions to organ transplantation.
In general, with the exception of a few religious groups such as Shintoists, Jehovah Witnesses and Rastafarians, all major world religions either actively or passively support organ donation or are neutral. Romany Gypsies do not accept transplant of organs.
Here is a summary of the main religious views.
The Christian churches: None of the Christian religions has ethical objections to organ donation. Christian churches encourage organ and tissue donation, stating that we were created for God's glory and for sharing God's love. They encourage members to register as organ donors and prayerfully support those who have received an organ transplant.
Buddhism: Buddhists believe that organ and tissue donation is a matter of individual conscience and place high value on acts of compassion. A Buddhist leader describes their position as:
"We honour those people who donate their organs to saving lives."
Hindu and Sikh: The Hindu and Sikh religions have no objections to organ donation. Indeed, Hindu mythology has stories in which the parts of the human body are used for the benefit of other humans and society. There is nothing in the Hindu religion indicating that parts of humans, dead or alive, cannot be used to alleviate the suffering of other humans.
Judaism: All branches of Judaism support and encourage donation. According to one Rabbi:
"If one is in the position to donate an organ and save someone's life, it's obligatory to do so, even if the donor never knows who the beneficiary will be. The basic principle of Jewish ethics is 'the infinite worth of the human being'."
Islam: Under Islamic law it is practice for bodies to be buried as quickly as possible after death. Therefore, sometimes requests for organ donation are refused. However, in 1995 the Muslim law (Shariah) Council UK issued a directive supporting organ donation and transplantation. The religion of Islam believes in the principle of saving lives and supports organ transplantation with that context.
Shinto: In Shinto the dead body is considered to be impure and dangerous, and thus quite powerful. 'In folk belief, injuring a dead body is a serious crime' according to E. Namihira in his article, Shinto Concept Concerning the Dead Human Body. To this day it is difficult to obtain consent from bereaved families for organ or tissue donation, the Japanese regard them all in the sense of injuring the body. Families are often concerned that they do not injure the 'itai', the relationship between the dead person and the bereaved people.
- Why do almost all the main world religions support organ donation and transplantation? What are the general shared principles they hold regarding human life?
- Consider the views held by the Shinto religion regarding the dead human body. What do you think about their ideas?
See also the following leaflets prepared by NHS UK Transplant:
- Christianity and Organ Donation;
- Judaism and Organ Donation;
- Buddhism and Organ Donation;
- Hindu Dharma and Organ Donation;
- Sikhism and Organ Donation;
- Islam and Organ Donation
Copies available from www.uktransplant.org.uk