Wednesday 10 June 2020

Organ Donation

Most transplants are carried out whilst the donor heart is still beating. To make this possible doctors have invented the term ‘brain death’ - the idea that people are ‘dead’ even though their heart is still beating. We would say that people who are ‘brain dead’ are still alive. In fact, sometimes they wake up – even as doctors are getting them ready for the operation to have their organs removed.

Hearts are always taken from ‘heart beating’ donors, but there’s another reason why we shouldn’t have heart transplants. The heart is the centre of our existence and is mysteriously connected with the experiences of our soul.

We are taught at school that the heart is only a pump, but some heart transplant patients change personality and become like the donor. These changes in favourite foods, music and hobbies happen even though the patient knows nothing about the donor.

After receiving the heart of a seventeen year old black teenager, a white manual worker started listening to classical music. This is what his wife said about it:

He’s driving me nuts with the classical music. He doesn’t know the name of one song and never, never listened to it before. Now, he sits for hours and listens to it. He even whistles classical music songs that he could never know. How does he know them? You’d think he’d like rap music or something because of his black heart. 

Of course, this man and his wife didn’t know that the teenager had been killed on the way to a violin lesson - he loved classical music and died hugging his violin case.

Some people object to organ donation because the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit and mustn’t be destroyed. This is true, but the aim of organ donation isn’t the destruction of the body – it’s to help other people. It’s not like cremation which deliberately burns the body like the pagans used to.

Most Orthodox Christians say that donating organs is OK as long as the heart has already stopped. We can give blood if we are able. We can also donate bone marrow, a kidney or part of our liver. Obviously donating part of our organs is a very serious matter and we need to discuss it with our relatives, doctors and our spiritual father.

However, it’s very important to keep our names off the donor register because it’s not possible to opt-out of ‘heart beating’ donation.

There is more information on Orthodoxy and organ donation in our book 'The Grace of the Spirit'.

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