Should Catholics donate their organs?

Should Catholics donate their organs?
Questions of Faith

Organ donation can make a tremendous difference to the quality of people’s lives – thousands suffer yearly from liver, kidney and heart problems, so a chance to find a replacement organ for its damaged counterpart can be a dream come true.

Despite its benefits, it’s not uncommon to hear reservations about this intrusive type of donation. Don’t you own your organs? Should your body be invaded through surgical means? How moral is it to give part of your body away that God has created?

The Church doesn’t mince its words when it talks about the morality of organ donation, describing it as a “noble and meritorious act”.

The ability to gift someone the possibility of an extended life is praised by the Church and Pope St John Paul II even described it as a “genuine act of love”. Speaking at the International Congress on Transplants in 2000, he said: “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 well-being of another person’.”


It’s important, however, to be clear about what constitutes an ethical form of organ donation. For example, it would be immoral to kill someone, extract their organs, and then supply them to five different people. So, when is organ donation legitimate?

Firstly, the donor must freely give consent to organ procurement. If the donor is coerced or manipulated into it, then it’s immoral. Secondly, the procedure must not be life-threatening or create a severe disability to the donor.

This means that only non-vital organs like a kidney or lung can be donated while the donor is still alive, but not the heart or the brain.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums this teaching up when it writes: “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. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity.

“It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.”

The idea that someday your body could be cut open to have your organs removed is a scary prospect”

Some people might argue that donating organs is wrong as it interferes with the natural longevity of someone’s life. Perhaps they were supposed to die at that particular point in time? On the surface the argument might seem plausible, but if you accept this, it means you should also oppose all forms of medication and surgical intervention as they too prolong someone’s natural lifespan.

The idea that someday your body could be cut open to have your organs removed is a scary prospect. But remember that in doing so, you’re giving a sick or dying person the chance to live life to the full once again.