Different faiths and beliefs may have different opinions about whether their followers should donate their organs.
All of the UK’s major religions accept organ donation in certain circumstances, although the choice to donate should always be a personal one.
There may also be differences of opinion within each faith group, but this list should help to give an overview of the justifications or objections of organ donation for the five most common British religions.
Continue reading to get all the details from the worlds most popular religions.
In recent years, there have been efforts by the NHS to share the views on organ donation of religious leaders for the UK’s minority religions. This is important because many people who follow minority religions in the UK are also members of ethnic minorities. Despite only making up 14% of the population, 30% of the people on organ donation waiting lists are from ethnic minorities.
On average, people of black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds wait longer for transplants and are more likely to die while they are still on the waiting list. This is because successful transplants depend on the donor and recipient having similar blood and tissue types, which is more likely to happen between people with similar ethnic backgrounds.
In part, the long waiting times are due to the fact that there are, by definition, fewer organ donors from minority ethnic groups than there are from the majority. However, common misconceptions about the permissibility of organ donation in some cultural and religious communities also play a role, as potential donors my decide to opt-out over moral or religious concerns.
Before the new opt-in system, only 3% of people on the organ donor register were from black, Asian or other ethnic minority backgrounds.
Across denominations, organ donation is generally supported and justified with Christian teachings to love one another and help those in need. The Vatican called organ donation an ‘act of charity and love’, while the Church of England goes one step further and has called organ donation a ‘Christian duty’.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a denomination which does not allow its adherents to receive blood transfusions or blood products. However, the sect has no objection to donation, and a Jehovah’s Witness may receive an organ if they are willing to undergo the operation without blood transfusion.
There is some disagreement between religious scholars on the permissability of organ donation in Islam. This mostly stems from the belief that the body is Allah’s gift, and so it should not be desecrated.
While some scholars believe this extends even beyond physical death, others have argued that an organ donation is a life-giving act of charity whose need overrides the importance of not desecrating the body.
In the UK, there have been at least three fatwahs (religious rulings) in support of organ donation. The most recent, published by Mufti Mohammed Zubeir Butt in 2019, says that organ donation is permitted in Islam after circulatory death (when the lungs and heart stop working), but things are more ambiguous if somebody is only brain-dead.
To ensure compliance with this interpretation of the shariah, organs should not be retrieved until life support has been switched off.
For Hindus, life for the soul does not end with the death of the body; instead, rebirth takes place as the soul is once again reincarnated in another living thing.
For this reason, the physical body is seen as having little importance after death. This, combined with the importance of daan (selfless giving), means that the religion is generally supportive of organ donation.
Manusmriti is an ancient Sanskrit legal text which informs Hindu philosophy. In Manusmriti, it is written that:
“Of all the things that it is possible to donate, to donate your own body is infinitely more worthwhile.”
Sikhs believe in reincarnation, which implies that the body is just a vessel for the soul, which becomes obsolete after death. There are therefore not obvious moral objections to organ donation for Sikhs.
As well as this, sera (selfless giving) is a core tenet of the faith, inspired by Sikhism’s founder Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s devotion to caring for others and his self-sacrifice. In the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, it is written that:
“The true servants of God are those who serve Him by helping others.”
For many, it is taken as read that these principles endorse o organ donation for Sikhs.
There is often confusion surrounding what is permitted in the Jewish faith as regards organ donation. This arises from requirements for a body to be buried within 24 hours of death and rules which prohibit ‘defiling’ the body.
However, there is a general consensus among Jewish religious leaders that the principle of pikuach nefesh (saving lives) is more important than the conservation of the body’s organs after death, provided that k’vod hamet (dignity for the dead) is upheld again following retrieval of the organs.
This is justified by a verse in the Torah which reads:
“Anyone who destroys a life is considered by scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life as if he has saved an entire world”Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
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