Biblical vision

Vision on humankind

The prevailing view among conservative Christians is that man was created by God. So the human body is not a chance collection of parts that can be traded at will after someone's death. Moreover: who is the owner of the body of the deceased one? Conservative Christians will be less inclined to say that the person himself is the owner of his body (self-determination), far less than is the state or the community. The deceased body also belongs to the Creator. Various considerations are made: one is of the opinion that the created character of man means that organ donation is excluded, others think that organ donation is allowed or even mandatory.

Besides that, there is also a problem with the definition of (brain) dead, because it is said that a human being is more than his brains.

Loving your neighbour

There are those who conclude on the grounds of the Biblical commandment to love your neighbour (Matth. 22:37-39) that giving an organ after life is a deed of neighbourly love. This sounds more logical than it is: to be called love, neighbourly love should as a rule be a voluntary action. Even though there could well be a sense of duty, the act of neighbourly love is usually voluntary. So it is doubtful whether organ donation after life can be categorised under the notion of neighbourly love. Moreover, neighbourly love is usually characterised by an offer: it costs something, for instance effort, time or money. You have to sacrifice something for someone. But what does someone offer if his organs are removed from his body, when completely unconscious? It would be more appropriate to state that the survivors are making an offer: a forced bereavement because they do not, or they hardly, are there when the dying person breaths his last breath (see below at time to die).
A form of donation that is gaining ground, is the so-called Good Samaritan organ donation, so called after the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). In this case a kidney is donated to a next of kin during one's life, usually a family member. Clearly this certainly falls under the notion of neighbourly love.

A Biblical example?

Taking out one of Adam's ribs is used by some proponents as an argument for organ donation. Apart from the fact that it is not actually an organ that is involved but a tissue donation, this unique act of God should not be lightly used as an analogy for human actions.

Concerning brain dead

An apparently living person, healthy colour, good blood pressure and heartbeat, admittedly on resuscitation but with no brain functions: is he dead? And, what about his soul? The assumption that the soul is no longer present in the body, would make the soul's existence (partly) dependent on the brain function. That is not consistent with the assumption (made by some Christians) that a human is already complete at conception, with body, spirit and soul. For Christian family members, these considerations make the phenomenon ‘brain dead’ even more difficult than for other family members. This dilemma becomes abundantly clear with organ donation procedures that require a brain dead patient to be ‘physically healthy’.

A time to die

Apart from the fact that emotions play a part when (establishing) the approach of death, extremely personal convictions and feelings are involved regarding a possible belief in life after death. This belief gives an extra, or at least a different, meaning to respect for the process of dying and the ensuing death. Many Christians see death as the last enemy (on account of 1 Cor. 15:26, although that deals mainly with Christ's victory over death). This is coupled with a certain degree of hesitation or fear. For this reason there is a preference for a ‘non-directive’ death process: an unplanned affair, which cannot be influenced, but that has its own rhythm. There is a time to die, and that time must also be taken for it. In essence, with organ donation there is hardly any time, the grieving process is forced: a few minutes after the last breath is expired (with the non-heart-beating procedure) the deceased is transferred to the operating theatre. Things are even more sensitive with someone who is brain dead: the ‘deceased’ is carried away while he/she is still in a reasonable condition, good blood pressure, oxygen saturation, heart functions, healthy colour and a good body temperature. Some time later the deceased returns from the operating theatre and has ‘really died’: a white/yellow facial colour, no breathing, no heartbeat, no blood pressure, the body feels cold. It is just this contrast in appearance and functioning, the contrast between life and death, that makes it difficult to cope with.

In conclusion

Many of the above aspects mean that an awful lot of people are hesitant when it comes to organ donation. Others involve God's Creative Being differently in this matter: He also created the other person, who may be served with an organ from the deceased. And that is an act of respect towards the Giver of life.

However, those who reject organ donation, usually do consider donating a kidney to a sick family member or an unknown person as being an act of neighbourly love. This is also called an altruistic donation. A great difference here is of course the absence of the brain dead criterion and any question of life and death of the donor whatsoever. Although this too is an ‘unnatural’ event, appreciation overrules. And yet not much imagination is required to raise objections against this too: the use of an organ as a replacement part could testify of a mechanical vision of humankind (as if a human was a car for which a part is replaced); the life-long use of immunosuppressive agents (drugs used to suppress organ rejection) undermines the natural resistance. Yet these objections do not weigh up against the great advantage of a strongly improved life perspective obtained by the recipient of a kidney. This is seen as an offer that is simply made out of neighbourly love. So the acceptance of the above aspects means that an oversimplified negative stance cannot be taken against other forms of organ donation.