God is the author of life and life is God’s gift to us. Hence we need to protect, preserve and promote the gift of human life. When organ transplantation is undertaken, the work of God becomes manifest through those who donate their organs. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity” (No. 2296). Hence, organ donation is not only an ethical act but it is to be encouraged. St Pope John Paul II gave his support for organ donation, calling it a “genuine act of love…. a way of nurturing a genuine culture of life.”
Pope Pius XII declared that based on the principle of brotherly love — called fraternal charity — both living and cadaver donations are acceptable to the Catholic Church. He underscored the point that the donor is making a sacrifice of himself for the good of another person.
On August 29, 2000, St Pope John Paul II delivered an address to the XVIII International Congress of the Transplantation Society: “Every organ transplant has its source in a decision of great ethical value: the decision to offer without reward a part of one’s own body for the health and wellbeing of another person…. Here precisely lies the nobility of the gesture, a genuine act of love. It is not just a matter of giving away something that belongs to us but of giving something of ourselves”.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in 1999, even before he became Pope Benedict XVI, became a registered organ donor. For him, organ donation is “an act of love that is morally licit, as long as it is free and spontaneous”. Pope John Paul II lists organ donation among ‘heroic acts’: “A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner.” (Evangelium Vitae: No. 86).
“The primary goal of all medicine is the service of human life…There is a need to instill in people’s hearts, especially in the hearts of the young, a genuine and deep appreciation of the need for brotherly love, a love that can find expression in the decision to become an organ donor,” said Pope John Paul II at the International Congress on Transplants in Rome, in August 2000.
Do you wish to pledge your organs? Then just go ahead and do so, for you should have no fear in performing such a charitable and heroic act. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 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 that is sought for the recipient. Further, According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious” (CCC no. 2301).
I am confident that social, political, and educational leaders will renew their commitment to fostering a genuine culture of generosity and solidarity. There is a need to instill in people’s hearts, especially in the hearts of the young, a genuine and deep appreciation of the need for brotherly love, a love that can find expression in the decision to become an organ donor. (The author is professor of ethics and moral theology, St Pius College & executive director, FIAMC Bio-Medical Ethics Centre, Mumbai).