Organ Donation – The UGH! Factor…

The Church is very clear on the meaning of death. “Death can mean decomposition, disintegration, a separation,” Pope John Paul II said in a 1989 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. “It occurs when the spiritual principle which ensures the unity of the organism no longer exercises its functions in and upon the organism, whose elements, left to themselves, disintegrate.”

The scenario has become a familiar one in the news media. There is a tragic accident, a young victim, and a distraught family. Within the next few days, follow-up stories report approvingly that the organs of the brain-dead patient have been donated. The family expresses relief that at least some good has been derived from what might otherwise have been merely a senseless tragedy. Most readers find little controversy in these stories. Donating the organs of a brain-dead patient has become a routine procedure at both secular and religious hospitals throughout the US, and throughout the world. However, a small but growing number of ethicists tire protesting what they deem an overly hasty rush to procure organs for transplant a rush which, they contest, is sometimes so hasty that “brain-dead” patients are in fact alive when they are put to the knife.  Click here to read more…

Comment: 

The Scottish Government plans to bring forward legislation to change the current situation where it is necessary for patients to  choose to donate their organs at death, and such volunteers often carry a card specifying that they wish to donate organs.  Read more here.  

The system is to be changed so that patients must opt-out – otherwise, our organs may be presumed to be available.  I have sent the following email to Aileen Campbell, MSP, Minister for Public Health in Scotland: 

Dear Ms Campbell,

With reference to the planned legislation to enforce “opt out” of organ donation, please advise how to go about opting out.

I presume this entails notifying my GP, but I would also like to ensure that I carry a card to indicate that I do not wish to donate an organ, NOR do I wish to receive one, in any emergency situation that may arise, so I presume that there will be a card to read “I do NOT wish to donate”, as there is an opt-in card already available.

I look forward to your advice on these matters, as soon as possible.  Thank you. END

Now, I know that the new Catechism of the Catholic Church praises organ donation in the highest terms:  Donation of organs after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a manifestation of generous solidarity… (#2296)

So, why do I have such a revulsion against the very idea?  Whatever happened, I ask myself, to accepting God’s will when afflicted with serious illness, albeit allowing for the pursuit of available treatments to improve or restore health. Having someone else’s organs transplanted into us, seems to me, to go way beyond that.  However, I get the feeling that I’m very much in the minority on this subject.  I won’t be won over:  the revulsion I felt when I first heard about organ transplants has never left me – but I look forward to learning how other bloggers view this matter.  Over to you!  

72 responses

  1. The argument about whether the donor system is opt-in or opt-out is utterly pointless. In both situations the final say lies with next of kin. And in both cases next of kin can over-ride the deceased’s decision to opt-in or to opt-out of organ donation. In practice perrmission for organ harvest is sought from next of kin in every case where there is a viable cadaver. The truth is is doesn’t matter one iota which cards you carry or do not carry, which register you opt into or opt out of – the only thing which matters is how your next of kin answer the request.

    • Chris McLaughlin,

      I imagine that as long as the next of kin are all for the transplant, that will be fine. It’s those who have next of kin saying “no” that will pose the problem which is why it will be important to have the card saying you don’t want to donate.

      “brain-dead” patients are in fact alive when they are put to the knife.”

      That is what is not being brought home to people, that organs from truly dead bodies are no use.

      I am just amazed that the Church has said this is not only allowed, but, quote, “a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a manifestation of generous solidarity…”

      Not in my book.

    • Chris,

      That scenario would be fine if (a) there are any next of kin, and (b) the next of kin agrees with the decision of the deceased. However, I’m sure you remember the case of Terry Schiavo….

      That said, this new policy appears to be a lot more than a tick on a coroner’s checklist. It appears to be a tick on the checklist of creeping socialism, i.e. the state in full control of every aspect of our lives from cradle to grave.

  2. Fidelis, I agree. I have worked in the field and yes, the patient is kept alive whilst the organs are removed. Disgusting. A priest once told me that a heart transplant can never be moral because it is still beating when it is removed.

    I wonder was that quote from the new Catechism also in the old one? Anyone know?

    • Crofterlady,

      I don’t think there would have been anything in older catechisms because this sort of thing, transplants, are a new development, as far as I know.

      That’s why I don’t think the new Catechism can possibly be right. I think it will be questioned along with all the other “new” stuff when sanity returns to the Church.

  3. What about donating kidneys, though? We’ve all got two of them, so what would be the harm in giving one to a family member who is stuck on a dialysis machine?

  4. Allan, of course it would be alright because, as you say, we have 2 kidneys. It’s the idea of “harvesting” organs from a live (soon to be dead!!) person that I find repugnant and immoral.

    • Crofterlady,

      In that case, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I find the idea of being opened up and a kidney removed, or the kidney belonging to A.N. Other put into my body, every bit as repugnant as any other transplant.

      I also wonder about the morality of it because of some cases I’ve known myself. A friend, for example, donated one of her kidneys to one of her brothers some years ago, when she was a fairly young mother of several children. What if she had been taken ill and needed that second kidney? And now, the recipient of her kidney (which lasted much longer than is the norm, apparently) now needs a second transplant, so another family member is offering to donate this time. It just does not seem natural to me, not at all. I understand the human desire to live as long as possible, but… with someone else’s organs? Not me; I’d sooner prepare to meet my Maker the way He… er… made me!

      Surely, God gave us 2 kidneys for a reason? And if He had wanted to provide a spare to give away, He would have somehow revealed that to us, maybe given us 3 instead of 2 😀 After all, He also gave us two eyes. Would YOU want to donate an eye?

              • Athanasius,

                Yes, I think that’s right. Often people find out they have an issue with the kidneys during a routine blood test and function has sometimes been reduced to 20% and they didn’t even realise.

                I have to say, I do wonder what I would do if my wife or children needed a kidney transplant and I could provide one.

                Anyway, I’ve got a meal to prepare so I better get moving. My steak and kidney pie is to die for!

              • Athanasius,

                It seems you are right – we only need one kidney, which makes me wonder why God gave us two (unless the evolutionists are right after all, LOL!)
                https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-can-you-live-without/

                According to the science, anyone can manage with only one kidney, so I really do have to ask, what is the point of having two? Maybe it should be compulsory for us all to donate one of our kidneys, if two are not needed. Surely it would be immoral to keep two kidneys when donating one would extend someone’s life for about ten years?

                • Fidelis

                  Now don’t you go advertising a kidney for sale on ebay! God gave us two because it is more functional for the body. We can survive on one kidney but our overall health is more assured with two. One kidney can fail, and often does with certain conditions.

                  • Athanasius,

                    Advertise a kidney on e-bay, LOL! I didn’t think of that – it’s a great idea, LOL!

                    Seriously, though, going by that article I posted earlier, it looks like we really don’t need two kidneys. I was amazed when I read the science of it. Still, I think I’ll hold on to the both of mine anyway! LOL!

                • I don’t care if I could get by with only one kidney, there’s something distasteful about putting my body through an operation when it is not necessary, and by that I mean, not necessary to cure something in my own body. I am gobsmacked that the Church allows this, I really am.

                  • Margaret Mary

                    I think kidney donation to help someone dying of kidney failure is permitted on the basis of Our Lord’s words: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend”

                    Ok, it’s not exactly laying down one’s life but it is undergoing quite a traumatic experience to save the life of another. I’m not absolutely sure but I think the moral acceptance of kidney donation by the Church is based on this.

      • That story about a second transplant being necessary, brings out one of the problems that I have with this business, and it’s the pressure put on families to be tested to see if they can be a match for a kidney transplant.

        I think it is unconscionable to make someone, possibly a young person, feel that they ought to give a kidney. I would just hate it if that happened in my family, but I’m afraid I would have to say “sorry” – I do feel these extraordinary length operations are immoral.

        Regarding the new Catechism. I’m sure when the Church returns to sanity, the praise for transplants in there will be removed.

  5. Editor

    I understand your personal position on kidney donation but there’s no moral reason why someone can’t donate a kidney to another person. In fact it’s quite laudable given that the donor may be saving a life. If I needed a kidney to survive you’d better believe I’d be only too happy to have someone else’s.

    General organ donation is altogether different, though. Any organ donation that requires a patient to be kept alive until harvest is completely immoral. That’s when the line gets crossed and man starts playing God, deciding when the donor will physically die. Death is not when brain activity stops but when the heart ceases to beat. I’m perplexed by the New Catechism on this subject, the Church does not support organ donation prgrammes that hands the power of life and death over to doctors and politicians.

    It wouldn’t be the first time a premature decision to end life has been made because someone else needs a heart or liver transplant, especially in countries where patients have to pay big money.

    And how dare this Scottish government or other pompous civil authority assume to themselves the power to enrol everyone in automatic organ donation. That kind of serious moral decision is not in their remit, it treats God’s law and personal conscience with utter contempt.

    • Athanasius,

      “… there’s no moral reason why someone can’t donate a kidney to another person. In fact it’s quite laudable given that the donor may be saving a life. If I needed a kidney to survive you’d better believe I’d be only too happy to have someone else’s.”

      Yip. That’s the popular/general view. It astonishes me.

      Let’s just hope the next craze ISN’T eye donation!

      • Editor

        I hope the Jehova’s Witnesses aren’t reading this thread or they’ll be chapping at your door trying to recruit you!!

        “Let’s just hope the next craze ISN’T eye donation!”

        Cant SEE it myself!

        • Athanasius,

          LOL!

          The Jehovah’s Witnesses will be feeling very pleased with themselves after all the publicity last week about contaminated blood in the transfusion service.

    • Athanasius,

      As usual, a very interesting post. My question is not really about transplant but more about switching off a life support machine. How would we know when to follow advice to switch off a life support machine? I often worry that doctors will say machines need to be turned off so they can get rid of a patient and free up a bed! Are there are guidelines on this?

      • Petrus

        You raise a good point!

        I think on that one we have to trust the judgment of doctors. My sister was on life support for a week before she died. The doctors had to keep turning up the oxygen levels until they reached maximum. We were advised at that point that the fight was lost and that to prolong it would be distressing for the patient. We had no reason to doubt this advice given the effort the doctors had put in to save her life, so we agreed to the switching off of life support. I really don’t believe any doctor would prematurely advise ending life support just to free up a bed.

        In answer to your question, I’m not aware of any guidelines on this because it is decision making issue that is generally very informed and transparent. However, long-term coma victims on life support is a different subject altogether. There’s much less medical certainty in these cases.

        • Athanasius,

          I wouldn’t trust the judgment of doctors – not after the Charlie Gard case, no way. They have become desensitised about human life, generally speaking, although I take it that your doctor was the exception given that they were adjusting the machine, oxygen etc.

  6. I’ve also got an aversion to transplants, and I thought I could remember something about the Church being against unnecessary surgery, or self-mutilation, something like that, but I can’t find anything.

    Then I found a link to a general essay about medical ethics but it doesn’t say much about this subject, except this one bit:

    “It is the official teaching of the Church that one is under no obligation to accept disproportionate/extraordinary care. Such care would include risky surgery which may cause excessive pain to the patient and/or be extremely expensive while at the same time providing no reasonable hope of either recovery or extension of a positive quality of life. This would also include dialysis.” http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/gro/gro_052medicalethics.html

    It does go on to say that the Church allows this sort of care. So it seems to be a case of being down to the individual choice.

    As far as I know, a transplanted kidney hasn’t got a very long life, although I can’t remember how long (10 years keeps coming into my head, but I’m not sure.) So I would be asking if the risk etc was disproportionate to the outcome – just a few years.

  7. I am totally opposed to most organ donations – ie those which must inevitably lead to the death of the donor. As to kidney donations, I think that that is morally permissible; if someone is generous enough to risk giving up one of their kidneys, out of what I can only assume to be love for the recipient, and knowing the possible effect that such a donation may mean to themselves, then I think that that is laudable. Surely that demonstrates a high degree of self-sacrifice?

    • Therese,

      I’m thinking of the young mother mentioned by editor in one of the first posts here, and I wouldn’t have wanted my mother to make such a sacrifice. All operations are dangerous and any doctor will tell you that there is a 50/50 chance of it being successful or going wrong. Putting yourself at risk like that, especially when you have responsibility for children, cannot be right, to my way of thinking.

      I think it’s actually sinful, not “laudable” as you say, to muck about with our bodies in this way. It didn’t happen in the past, this is a new dynamic in medicine and it is possibly putting pressure on family members to test to be a match for a sick relative. We are not obliged to go to extraordinary lengths either to stay alive or keep others alive and if going through an operation to remove one of your organs to give to someone else, isn’t going to “extraordinary lengths”, then I don’t know what is.

      • Allan

        Obviously I wouldn’t advocate a mother risking her health if she had children to care for. No-one here has stated that we are “obliged to go to extraordinary lengths either to stay alive or keep others alive”. I merely think that if one wishes to take a risk to save the life of someone one loves, I cannot see any moral objection, with the already stated proviso that in taking such a risk one is not subjecting any dependants to possible loss.

    • Therese, I can see why you think it is laudable to give up of your kidneys but I also think that it puts pressure on family and close friends to take such a risk to carry out this laudable act of charity. God gave us two kidneys for a reason; we may need the second one at some point in our lives, especially if you have a young family or any family to care for. From personal experience of knowing someone who has had a kidney transplant, it only has a shelf-life of about 15 years before another one was required from two different family members. I truly think it puts a pressure on relatives to give up one of their kidneys which doesn’t seem right to me, and that that person may have a family that needs them and is therefore taking a risk since it could be or is a 50/50 success operation for everyone concerned. I think all organ donations are questionable.

      • Catherine

        I can see your point; there should of course be no pressure on anyone to do something they don’t want to do, but, yes, I can see that there may be some “pressure” to “do the right thing” which I think would be very wrong, but perhaps inevitable. I was only arguing that I can’t see anything morally wrong in an individual making such a sacrifice – quite the opposite, in fact. After all, firemen, policemen, life boatmen etc risk their lives for complete strangers every day, which is most laudable, and I can’t see the difference between the potential sacrifice they make for complete strangers, and someone offering a kidney to save a loved one. I suppose there is no “one size fits all” in this question.

        • Therese,

          I think there’s a difference in kind between the work of the emergency services possibly risking their lives, and someone agreeing to an unnecessary operation.

          There does come a point when an emergency worker has to put their own safety first – we even saw that in the recent Grenfell Towers firefighters had to make the decision not to go into a particularly dangerous situation as they were likely to lose their own lives
          http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/distraught-firefighter-forced-make-impossible-10648450

          • Allan

            Then what is the moral difference? I’m struggling to see it. NOT, I must say, because anyone has the obligation to risk their life – but why do you see that it is acceptable for a stranger to risk their life, but not a family member for one whom they love? You state that a kidney transplant is an “unnecessary” operation, but is it?

            For the sake of this argument, let’s say that it isn’t; that it is a ‘life and death’ scenario. Would you still think that – if someone is willing to give one of their kidneys – it would be morally wrong for them to do so?

            • Therese,

              I think the moral difference is that the people in the emergency services are trained to save lives while minimising the risk to their own lives. They are trained in a skill-set to ensure maximum safety for them working as doctors, police or firefighters at the scene of any accident or terrorist attack etc. None of the firefighters in the Grenfell Tower fire was killed. The public and press tend to speak of them and the police as heroes, risking their lives, but in reality they are not actually likely to die at work.

              Another thing I would argue to show the moral difference is that they choose this line of work and are paid for it, they’re given protective uniforms and equipment. That’s different from someone who is perfectly healthy being asked to undergo a major operation in order to remove a perfectly healthy kidney to give to someone else. I was talking about this blog to a friend today and she said that she took a very long time to recover from a major operation, that most people need a good stretch of time to recover from surgery, and so that is one indication that this is not something to be undertaken lightly.

              Moving to your question – you only give a stark choice, without any circumstances. Given that the Catechism has Okayed transplants, I couldn’t say it would be “morally wrong” for someone to offer their kidney whether in a life or death situation or not. What I would say is that if the person to give the donor is a young mother or father of a family, then it may not be morally right for them to agree to donate. I see that as putting themselves at risk when their first responsibility is to their children, so they are not just risking their own health and life, but might be badly affecting the lives of their children if something goes wrong, either during the operation or in the years to come.

              To turn the question around, I would like you to say if, in any situation where someone refuses to donate a kidney (no matter the reasons) is that person morally wrong?

              • Allan

                To turn the question around, I would like you to say if, in any situation where someone refuses to donate a kidney (no matter the reasons) is that person morally wrong?

                Absolutely not, and I am completely opposed to the increasing trend towards shaming people into donating their organs.

                I doubt there’s going to be a meeting of minds with regard to your reasoning about persons whose jobs occasionally put their lives at risk. Yes, they are trained and they wear protective clothing; likewise a person undergoing a kidney donation is given all information regarding risks, recovery time, etc. Both sets of people “choose” to do what they do. I’m not trying to be difficult, but I really cannot see the difference, morally.

                • Therese,

                  I think the difference might be that the emergency services are not actually doing anything to themselves by doing their “risky” jobs, whereas a kidney transplant donor is putting themselves under the knife. They know that their bodies are going to be operated on, and they may not live through that, or might have after effects, where as more times than not the emergency workers have no trauma at all.

                  I’m not sure if you’ll see that as a difference in morality but I do because I could see myself taking a risk by trying to get someone out of a fire in a room, adrenalin running, thinking I could get them out before the fire worsens, whereas I wouldn’t think of going “under the knife” even for myself, LOL! I’m a big feartie!

                  • Josephine

                    From one big feartie to another – hi!

                    I quite understand that in certain circumstances of immediate danger, one is able to perform actions which one wouldn’t normally consider, so I’ve got no problem there. However (wouldn’t you know there’s always a however?) consider this:

                    perhaps – like many others – I go out on a nice clear day and decide – against all sensible advice – to climb a mountain, or to go out in an un-seaworthy boat, or to go hiking without suitable equipment etc. The weather changes drastically; I’m lost, and in dangerous surroundings. Now, someone has to come out and risk their life to rescue me. There are plenty of people who willingly risk their lives to do so. Do you think it immoral for them to do so and perhaps lose their life, and abandon their dependants, for an idiot who didn’t take enough care of their own safety? Whereas, the person whose body has failed them, through no fault of their own, has someone exceptional who is prepared to give them a life-giving organ. And that would be immoral? I can’t see it, I’m afraid.

                    • Therese,

                      None of the emergency service staff are expected to go to extraordinary lengths to save someone else. I don’t think this is understood enough.

                      They are trained and given equipment to do their best, but there comes a point at which they are not expected to endanger themselves. There were scenes of firefighters crying outside Grenfell Towers for that reason, that they knew if they went further up the building, they would be putting themselves in extra danger, for want of a better description.

                      I have a relative who has two kidneys but one of them has been diagnosed as “weak” – she is a young mother. If she had given up a kidney a few years ago, she could be facing death now, if her weak kidney gives out.

                      I can’t understand the need to keep a life going for an extra few years when it involves someone else undergoing a major operation (which is what a kidney transplant is, for both parties.)

                      Are we not supposed to be less attached to this life, and more attached to the next? (Saying that, I’m petrified of death, LOL!)

                    • Josephine

                      They may not be “expected” to endanger their lives, but many do; should they not do so? Is it immoral when then do? Does it offend God when they do?

                    • Josephine and Allan

                      Would it be morally wrong for a parent to donate a kidney to one of their children who is in danger of death?

                    • Therese,

                      Of course, we expect the emergency services to do all that they can to save lives, but the Church has always taught that nobody needs to go to extraordinary lengths to preserve life.

                      Like every other moral decision, if the action is not evil in and of itself, and if the intention is to do good and not harm, then clearly the firefighter dashing into a burning building is not doing anything immoral.

                      He may still have to make a judgment however, as to what lengths (that word again!) he needs to go to, in the hope of saving lives. If, for example, he reaches a point where he sees that he has little chance of saving someone without seriously risking his own safety, then he would not be doing anything immoral or cowardly by deciding against any further action. That would be the right, the moral thing to do. And I think his wife and children would agree.

                      In any case, I really do not see any similarity at all with the issue of organ donation where invasive surgery is required of one patient who is perfectly healthy. I don’t think the information leaflets etc given to organ donors, equate to the training, protective gear, ladders, support of all kinds, water tanks etc provided to firefighters. They are two entirely different categories of “morality”, in my view.

                    • Therese,

                      Would it be morally wrong for a parent to donate a kidney to one of their children who is in danger of death?

                      Let me ask you this question before responding to yours:

                      Would it have been moral of a relative of mine, who has 5 children, to have donated a kidney to one of her children when it was discovered that that child had a kidney malfunction that might leave her, at a very young age, with only one kidney? All the children were young and at home at the time. Would it have been right for that mother to undergo that major operation, to enable one child to have two good kidneys instead of only one, OR should she take into account the needs of her other children and, by the way, her husband who also had significant health problems at the time. What do you think?

                      Whatever you think, the point I’m making with that (true) story, in response to your question is that I think we have established that kidney donation is a matter for individual consciences, in the absence of any firm direction to the contrary from the Church, when, on the contrary, the new Catechism gives a qualified green light to the procedure.

                      So, in summary: for the parent who decides to donate a kidney to the child in danger of death, it would not be morally wrong. In the case of a parent who decides NOT to donate, even in that tragic circumstance, it would ALSO not be morally wrong. The Church has always taught that we are not expected to go to extraordinary lengths to preserve human life. It’s that simple. If someone chooses to go to extraordinary lengths, then, all other things being equal, that may be a virtuous act. But it is not the norm and nobody should feel obliged to do that, in any circumstances.

                      Confusing – or what? Not really. Not if you think about it…

                      Don’t you just love purple? One of my favourite colours 😀

                    • Editor

                      Of course, we expect the emergency services to do all that they can to save lives, but the Church has always taught that nobody needs to go to extraordinary lengths to preserve life.

                      Well quite,and I think that in every post I have made on this subject I have been at pains to state that I agree that no-one has the duty to endanger their life by making the sacrifice of one of their organs.

                      Like every other moral decision, if the action is not evil in and of itself, and if the intention is to do good and not harm, then clearly the firefighter dashing into a burning building is not doing anything immoral.

                      Doesn’t this also apply to someone donating a kidney?

                      In any case, I really do not see any similarity at all with the issue of organ donation where invasive surgery is required of one patient who is perfectly healthy. I don’t think the information leaflets etc given to organ donors, equate to the training, protective gear, ladders, support of all kinds, water tanks etc provided to firefighters. They are two entirely different categories of “morality”, in my view.

                      They are both informed of the possible danger to themselves of their actions. They both make decisions based on that knowledge.

                      Let me ask you this question before responding to yours:

                      Would it have been moral of a relative of mine, who has 5 children, to have donated a kidney to one of her children when it was discovered that that child had a kidney malfunction that might leave her, at a very young age, with only one kidney? All the children were young and at home at the time. Would it have been right for that mother to undergo that major operation, to enable one child to have two good kidneys instead of only one, OR should she take into account the needs of her other children and, by the way, her husband who also had significant health problems at the time. What do you think?

                      First point: I would not presume to make any judgement on an individual about such a matter. This is entirely a question of an individual’s circumstances and conscience, and is not my business. However, if it were me, I would not consider such circumstances serious enough to make such a sacrifice; the child’s life was not in danger, and one can live perfectly well with only one kidney.

                      Whatever you think, the point I’m making with that (true) story, in response to your question is that I think we have established that kidney donation is a matter for individual consciences, in the absence of any firm direction to the contrary from the Church, when, on the contrary, the new Catechism gives a qualified green light to the procedure.

                      So, in summary: for the parent who decides to donate a kidney to the child in danger of death, it would not be morally wrong. In the case of a parent who decides NOT to donate, even in that tragic circumstance, it would ALSO not be morally wrong. The Church has always taught that we are not expected to go to extraordinary lengths to preserve human life. It’s that simple. If someone chooses to go to extraordinary lengths, then, all other things being equal, that may be a virtuous act. But it is not the norm and nobody should feel obliged to do that, in any circumstances.

                      Dear Ed, this is what I have been arguing from the first. We are in complete agreement – even about the colour purple – although I tend to prefer the more subtle heather shades of purple…

            • Therese,

              By “unnecessary operation” I mean unnecessary for the donor.

              Usually, we only have an operation to put something right in our own bodies. Also surgery is usually a last resort because any surgery is dangerous. This is a new idea, where we can undergo major surgery when we are healthy, to remove something from our body to give to another body.

              That’s why I am astonished that the Catechism has condoned it, but there are things in that new Catechism that have been condemned on this blog before (such as its teaching on capital punishment) so it may be that these things will be amended in future years.

  8. Allan

    “We are not obliged to go to extraordinary lengths either to stay alive or keep others alive…”

    There have been many cases of expectant Catholic mothers with other children who have been advised to have an abortion because of some risk or other to their health should they carry to full term. In such cases the Church maintains that it is not moral to sacrifice the unborn in favour of self preservation. There’s one example of how some people are obliged to go to extraordinary lengths to keep others alive.

    In the case of kidney donation, while there is always risk with any operation, the survival rate is generally very high. I haven’t heard of a single instance of a kidney donor dying as a result of the donor operation.

    When it comes to relatives, especially very close ones like a parent or a sibbling, it would be selfish in the extreme to refuse to donate a kidney to keep them alive. I cannot imagine that there are many people in the world, especially parents, who would be that selfish when the life of a child, parent, brother or sister was at stake. There’s nothing in the least sinful in the self sacrifice of family kidney donation.

    • Athanasius,

      “When it comes to relatives, especially very close ones like a parent or a sibbling, it would be selfish in the extreme to refuse to donate a kidney to keep them alive. I cannot imagine that there are many people in the world, especially parents, who would be that selfish when the life of a child, parent, brother or sister was at stake.”

      You have just proved my point about the pressure. Even if my conscience tells me it is not right to undergo such an operation, I’m to be judged “selfish in the extreme” for not agreeing to it. That definitely cannot be right.

    • Athanasius,

      “There have been many cases of expectant Catholic mothers with other children who have been advised to have an abortion because of some risk or other to their health should they carry to full term.

      I cannot believe that is the Church’s teaching. I was so surprised to read your comment that I read through Pope John Paul II’s document on life issues, Evangelium Vitae and found the following:

      “It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”
      https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae.html

      I think you may be thinking of the exceptional case of a mother in the operating theatre for something unconnected with the pregnancy and the baby may be lost to save the mother’s life, in that situation. That’s called “double effect” when the purpose is not to abort the baby. There are plenty of examples of doctors who’ve done what you say, and advised a mother to have an abortion for her health’s sake only to find that this was not the case. Abortion is murder and the Pope had just pointed that out in the paragraph before the quote I’ve given above.

      The Church is clear about the need to do all we can to save human life but without feeling pressured to go to extraordinary lengths. I think requiring another family member to undergo an operation to give me one his their organs is definitely going to extraordinary lengths. Personally, I would never put any member of my family in the position of having to do that.

      • Laura

        Read that passage of John Paul II again and you’ll find that he first presents the argument of some on economic or health grounds, and then he goes on to discount such argument by saying that nothing justifies abortion. You’ve misunderstood the text. The last sentence makes all clear.

        Allan

        As regards donating a kidney to a close family member. The Church puts no one under pressure in the matter, she leaves us entirely free to decide for ourselves. It should be a no brainer for most people in a close family, although I accept that not all families have that close bond. But be assured that kidney donation is neither sinful nor repugnant when the kidney is offered out of genuine charity.

        • Athanasius,

          I don’t understand your point. This is what you originally said, that I was replying to:

          “There have been many cases of expectant Catholic mothers with other children who have been advised to have an abortion because of some risk or other to their health should they carry to full term. In such cases the Church maintains that it is not moral to sacrifice the unborn in favour of self preservation. There’s one example of how some people are obliged to go to extraordinary lengths to keep others alive.”

          I disagreed with that and quoted Pope John Paul II but you seem to think he supports what you say, although it’s not clear to me from your reply. I have now checked again and found this from Pope Pius XII:

          “Never and in no case has the Church taught that the life of the child must be preferred to that of the mother.  It is erroneous to put the question with this alternative: either the life of the child or that of the mother.  No, neither the life of the mother nor that of the child can be subjected to an act of direct suppression.  In the one case as in the other, there can be but one obligation: to make every effort to save the lives of both, of the mother and of the child.

          It is one of the finest and most noble aspirations of the medical profession to search continually for new means of ensuring the life of both mother and child.  But if, notwithstanding all the progress of science, there still remain, and will remain in the future, cases in which one must reckon with the death of the mother, when the mother wills to bring to birth the life that is within her and not destroy it in violation of the command of God – Thou shalt not kill – nothing else remains for the man, who will make every effort till the very last moment to help and save, but to bow respectfully before the laws of nature and the dispositions of divine Providence.”  Pius XII, Allocution to Large Families, November 26, 1951. (15)

          IMHO, it is very clear from that quote from Pius XII that a woman may not in good conscience procure an abortion even for the sake of her own health or any other reason. In a situation where there is an operation in progress and the baby cannot be saved without harm to the mother, that is different.

          I’d like to comment also on the point you make to Allan which I think is very unjust. It doesn’t mean that there is not a “close bond” within a family just because members don’t feel it is right to donate a kidney or other part of their body. That’s a fallacious argument. That’s how the mafia works, on a false notion of family loyalty.

          • Laura,

            I think you’ve misunderstood Athanasius – he meant that the mother was going to extraordinary lengths by refusing an abortion, not that she was allowed an abortion. I’ve disagreed that this is “extraordinary lengths” if you read my post on this below.

          • Laura

            Again, your quote of Pius XII simply confirms what I have been saying from the start, which is that under no circumstances is it acceptable to abort a baby.

            Even in cases where saving a baby during an operation may risk harm to the mother Pius XII says it would be against the Command of God to choose to end the baby’s life. As I said earlier, and this is the consistent teaching of the Church, abortion is not acceptable for any reason at any time.

            This is precisely what Pius XII is saying in this paragraph from your quote: “…But if, notwithstanding all the progress of science, there still remain, and will remain in the future, cases in which one must reckon with the death of the mother, when the mother wills to bring to birth the life that is within her and not destroy it in violation of the command of God – Thou shalt not kill – nothing else remains for the man, who will make every effort till the very last moment to help and save, but to bow respectfully before the laws of nature and the dispositions of divine Providence.”

            As regards the final paragraph in your comment, re my response to Allan. I’m sorry to disagree but there is definitely not as strong a bond in a family where one would not donate a kidney to save another. I think most reasonable people would agree with that. It seems fairly obvious to me, disturbing as the stating of the obvious may be.

            Imagine knowing that your sister, brother, mum or dad died prematurely because you wouldn’t give them a kidney? I cannot personally conceive of such a selfish act within a family and have certainly never heard of such a thing. There would be pressure on someone who did this but it would be the pressure of a bad conscience for the rest of their life, not any human pressure. No human authority should have to put moral pressure on someone to force them to do the right and charitable thing for their loved one. Just call me old school but that’s the morality I live by.

            • Athanasius,

              I find your comment on family and conscience completely arrogant. How can you dare to decide what is the conscientious thing to do in a matter like this, where the Church herself places no moral obligation on us?

              It is astounding that you write off anyone who would, for whatever reason, choose not to undergo an unnecessary operation as being selfish, and that the only right and charitable thing to do is to donate a kidney. To call someone “in bad conscience” because they did not donate a kidney is just beyond the pale.

              You need to remember that your views on this are not superior to anyone else’s. I think I’m right in saying that editor was opposed to kidney transplants – does that mean you are more moral, more charitable than editor, that you love your family more than editor does?

              • I meant to say that I could not love my family more than I do, but I would not go against my conscience in any way to do something for any of them. That was the position taken by St Thomas More at the Reformation and unless you think he was wrong not to put his family before his conscience, then I think you may see that your words are most unjust.

                • Allan

                  I understand the point you’re making about the primacy of conscience, the example of St. Thams More perfectly illustrates this in the correct way.

                  However, conscience has to be properly informed in order to make proper moral judgments. This is where the Church’s teaching helps us to discern. Kidney donation is not condemned by the Church, nor does it contradict the divine law. It would therefore be wrong to stand on conscience, considering something sinful that is not sinful. We have to make conscience decisions based on God’s law, not our own personal judgments.

                  • Athanasius,

                    There is NO “Church teaching” on kidney donation any more than there is “Church teaching” on transgenderism.

                    YOU say that going under the knife for such an operation does not contradict the divine law, but I don’t know that at all.

                    What I DO know is that if someone’s conscience dictates that they must do something or must not do something, then they must obey their conscience.

                    To be frank, I do not wish to discuss this any more with you given your dreadful comments about love of family being greater or lesser depending on whether someone is willing to give a kidney or not. I consider that to be ludicrous.

                    • Allan

                      If the matter of kidney transplantation was immoral and against the divine law then the Church would have spoken, as it has on other ethical matters of this kind. The Church has not spoken which means that the Church does not consider this procedure to be wrong. That must be taken into consideration when forming a conscience decision, otherwise we are like pagans who make our own rules on conscience.

                      I am perfectly happy not to discuss the matter any further if that’s what you wish. I stick by everything I have written, however, even if it does upset you. The truth is not always easy to take. Still, I respect your wish not to further discuss with me.

                  • Athanasius,

                    It’s not about whether something is “sinful” or “not sinful”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient.”

                    There’s an “if” in there showing that the permission to have transplants or give an organ is not an absolute, but it is dependent on other factors. Concern about possible consequences for oneself or for children if something goes wrong on the table or in the future, are perfectly valid concerns, and should not be labelled “selfish”

                    As the quote from the Catechism shows, the fact that the Church permits transplants under certain conditions, means that nobody should be made to feel guilty if they choose, in good conscience, not to donate or take an organ.

                    • Lily

                      Are you quoting the New Catechism? It seems you may be because NOT ALL organ transplants are ethical and moral. In fact, as we have all recognised from the beginning, the greater majority contradict the divine law because organ donors have to be kept artificially alive until a doctor decides that they can die naturally and their organs removed. There is nothing remotely Christian in such a system.

                      Only transplants involving a kidney or other such “surplus” organ, are permitted. No one dies in such a proceedure but llives are saved, so it is meritorious.

    • Athanasius,

      There have been many cases of expectant Catholic mothers with other children who have been advised to have an abortion because of some risk or other to their health should they carry to full term. In such cases the Church maintains that it is not moral to sacrifice the unborn in favour of self preservation. There’s one example of how some people are obliged to go to extraordinary lengths to keep others alive.

      I think that’s comparing apples with oranges. The situation of an unborn child is unique and not at all the same as someone who has an illness which, at one time, would have been accepted and treated in a palliative way, but now is regarded as less serious because someone else can sacrifice a kidney and possibly extend the life for a decade or so.

      Nobody can be “obliged” to do that. If we are to be held responsible for someone else’s health in that way, then we need to be told formally, giving the sources in Scripture and from the Fathers of the Church, what it is that makes such donations of one of our organs, an obligation.

      • Nicky

        Conscience, properly formed in charity, should oblige. I would not insist on people being obliged by any human authority. It’s a choice of self-sacrificing love versus selfishness and self preservation. I know which of the two will be more pleasing to God.

  9. There are just too many comments for me to reply to each individually, so, with limited time available at the moment, I will restrict myself to making the following points in response to the issues raised; I won’t name the blogger(s) to whom I am responding as that would entail constant scrolling up and down:

    1) Kidney transplants are a new phenomenon. The first successful transplant was in the early 1950’s (1954, I believe) so “The Church” in terms of Catholic Tradition, has not made any definitive pronouncement on them. Paragraph 2296 of the new Catechism, (promulgated in 1992) gives a limited approval of organ transplants: “… if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient.” There is no blanket permission or approval, therefore, for organ transplants. Clearly, there is scope to take account of personal circumstances, and prognosis.

    Paragraph 2296 continues: “Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity.” Which doesn’t mean that it is obligatory or even that it is always a good thing and, in fact, can be a very bad thing as we know from a surgeon [who] has apologised after carrying out a transplant which resulted in the deaths of two patients

    2) The natural law is changeless, and is summed up in its essential tenet to “do good and avoid evil” (St Thomas Aquinas). However, the application of the natural law can change when new situations arise. For example, the Church’s just war doctrine based on centuries of philosophical and theological argument about warfare, could not take account of the possible use of nuclear weapons because, again, these only came into being in the early 20th century. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not prohibit their use, but leaves this judgment to the relevant secular authorities, pointing only to the centuries-old conditions for a “just war”. “The Church” is slow to make definitive pronouncements to be applied in all cases, except where the issue is clear – as in the case of abortion, where the life of an unborn child is at risk.

    3) Similarly, there is no blanket approval for organ transplants and no obligation placed on the faithful to donate. No individual has the authority to impose a moral obligation based on charity or anything else, or to pronounce any judgment on anyone else because they decide against donating. This is true whether the decision is based on an instinctive repugnance and/or a sense that it is wrong to expose him/herself to unnecessary surgery; it may be that the person who does agree to donate is more virtuous than those, like myself, who cannot agree to do that, but it is for God to make that judgment, nobody else – unless, after all, they can see into the inner recesses of souls, in which case they may feel free to condemn the “non-donor” for having a conscience not properly formed in charity. Otherwise, we are completely prohibited from judging the intention and motivation of others. We may judge their actions, nothing else. We may not say that X refused to donate a kidney to Y so X ‘s conscience is not properly formed in charity. That is way off the Catholic radar.

    4) The figure of 10-15 years’ “shelf-life” for a transplant patient has been given, but those are in the minority. It’s a while since I’ve looked at the statistics, but that one stuck in my head. There are much shorter terms for the majority – anything from 1 year to 5 years is more usual, if my memory is correct. My own friend, who gave a kidney to her brother, was delighted when her brother’s transplant lasted well beyond the limit – I think his has lasted for 18 years, but now he needs to have it replaced and one of his sons is to donate. I don’t know his marital status but if he is a father of a young family, I would be surprised if his wife and children were not a little unhappy and worried that he is to undergo this operation. It really isn’t a simple matter of “love” vs “selfish” – it’s a tad more complex than that, although I acknowledge that, in my own case, I am, by nature and habit, an extremely selfish person.

    5) Having said that, I would be very slow to accuse someone of lack of “love” or lack of “close family bond” based on their unwillingness to donate a kidney. There is no way in this world that I could undergo that operation for a number of reasons, but none of them is because I don’t love my family. On the contrary, I love my family dearly, and – who knows – there may be examples of people who feel the same repugnance and the conscientious inability to donate a kidney as is the case in my own situation, who have done or would do many meritorious acts of charity which may require a high degree of self-sacrifice, to help their family members. The one-size fits all strategy seldom works, as I keep finding out when I buy lovely blouses that need to be returned next day… It’s the manufacturer to blame, of course…

    Finally, I do think we’ve more or less exhausted this subject, except that nobody has mentioned the fact that there is an alternative treatment available: dialysis. Yes, it means the patient attending hospital three or so days a week, and spending up to four hours on the machine, but there is a treatment, so it’s not a case of “life” depending on a transplant or “death” caused by lack of a transplant. Not that that would change anything in my case; I hope if and when I am blessed to have a time to prepare for soon-to-come death, that I use it well, in order to prepare for my judgment, rather than undergo these “extraordinary length” operations.

    The fact is, there is no obligation on anyone to donate organs; the whole transplant field is a very new phenomenon, and while our obligation to charity is paramount, it is left to the individual, in the absence of absolute norms, to decide how to best apply charity (love of God and neighbour for the love of God) in our own lives.

    I’ve tried to cover all the issues raised since my previous posting, but if I’ve missed anything, let me know.

  10. Editor,

    Transplants are indeed a new phenomenon, a 20th century one, in fact. The link below gives dates of various organ transplants carried out for the first time.

    http://liveonny.org/all-about-transplantation/organ-transplant-history

    Given the discussion about organ transplants, no matter what kind, is not without its risks that may affect the recipient. The link below is about kidney transplants in particular.

    http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Kidney-transplant/Pages/Risks.aspx

    I know someone who did have a kidney transplant. This individual had dialysis over a period of time before a compatible donor was found. The donor was NOT a family member. At the time I heard that the surgery was a success. I believe the life span of a kidney transplant averages around 10 years.

    However, about 7 or 8 years following the kidney transplant, the recipient developed cancer (I cannot remember which cancer). The cancer had its effect upon the use of the donated kidney, that led to kidney dialysis again. Sadly the individual died about 3 years later due to the cancer.

      • HIMANSHI SHUKLA

        I agree with Editor that it’s all very sentimental while ignoring the reality that doctors keep dying patient’s hearts beating artificially until suitable targets have been arranged for all donor organs. In other words, doctors decide when donors actually die. As Christians, we contend that this suspension of natural death by the medical world is immoral.

        And let’s not forget the very real danger, already manifested as a scandal in the U.S., of medical staff ending lives prematurely in order to get the donor’s organs. This was happening with aborted babies as well, of the so-called “partial birth” abortion method under the Obama and Clinton rule. I won’t detail the horrible facts for you as I believe you are a genuine person just mislead by the sentimental claptrap fed to the younger generation today in propaganda fashion. If you have the stomach for it, though, you can read up on the scandal yourself. Just google partial birth abortion and organ harvesting. Pay particular attention to results relating to “Planned Parenthood”.

        On a more positive note, I loved the picture of the smiling baby at the bottom of your webpage. Very cute!

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