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Exploring Religious Views on Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation and Funeral Rites

In the United States, over 100,000 individuals are on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant. Giving the gift of life is a very personal decision, and one factor that might affect a person’s decision is faith. Of the adult population, 73 percent of adults identify as part of an organized religion.¹ Passed down through generations and often the cornerstone of a person’s moral belief, religion may dictate an individual’s decision to be an organ, eye or tissue donor. Religion can also determine different funeral rituals a family may have when a loved one passes. 

Dignity Memorial invites you to explore perspectives and doctrines on how organ, eye and tissue donation may affect funeral services for people with different religious beliefs. This article does not reflect the nuances of each religion which may differ based on geographic region, religious sects, etc. Should you seek additional insights specific to your faith and its stance on donation, consider consulting your religious leader for questions and further guidance.

What does my faith believe about organ, eye and tissue donation?

Judaism

In Judaism, two mitzvahs (good deeds) determine what a person might choose at the end of life. The first is the mitzvah of honoring the dead and respecting their body. With this in mind, some may find it important to remain as whole as possible. The second mitzvah is that of saving a life. If a person’s final act can be that of saving another person’s life, some believe that this mitzvah overrides the first and that you can honor a person’s body in other ways to uphold the first mitzvah. 

Islam

“Whoever saves a life of a person is as if he has saved the life of the whole of humankind”. – The Qur’an 5:32

It is a commonly held belief among Muslims that a person’s body is considered sacred and should not be harmed, even after death. However, it is also recognized that donation is a blessed act, as it can save a life. With both of these beliefs, the general notion is that donation is permitted and is a personal decision that should be discussed with a person’s family and Imam.²

Christianity

*There are many denominations of Christianity; this section looks at Christianity as a whole. 

In general, Christians believe that God has entrusted them with the care of their bodies. It is believed that people have an earthly body and a heavenly body. While some debate if those will be the same body, many churches believe that bodies will be made whole again and donation will have no impact. Most Christian denominations encourage donation, as they believe it shows the love of God to others. 

Hinduism

The Hindu belief follows a set list of niyamas (virtuous acts) that you should do in life. These niyamas include Dāna (generosity) and Seva (service). It is believed that organ donation has more significance than any material Dāna or Seva. As Hinduism encourages acts of generosity and service, it is generally accepted and encouraged for individuals to choose donation.  

Buddhism 

Central to Buddhist beliefs are the desires to be generous and to relieve the suffering of others. While there is no formal statement either for or against organ donation for Buddhists, it is seen as an act of great generosity and a way to care for others. Those who practice Buddhism are encouraged to make donation decisions in advance, so their wishes regarding death can be respected. 

Implications of Donation on Funeral Services

In general, organ, eye and tissue donation should have very little impact on funeral services or rituals.Hospitals, transplant teams and funeral providers do their best to honor the donor and ensure their body is treated with respect throughout the process. When considering donation, there are a few things each family should know.  

When to contact the funeral home?

If your loved one has been identified as a potential donor, contact your religious leader as well as your preferred funeral home. Notifying them in advance can help everyone prepare for final rites and funeral rituals. 

How are funeral rituals impacted? 

Overall, most funeral homes are able to work with your family and faith leader to ensure that religious beliefs are followed. 

JudaismIslamChristianityHinduismBuddhism
Final Prayers/ConfessionNoNoNoNoNo
Washing & PurificationNoNoN/ANo, but the ritual may not be able to happen at home No
Burial/Cremation Within A Certain TimeframeYes, Jewish funerals should take place as soon as possible. Donation may delay funeral services.Yes, traditionally, the deceased should be buried within three days of their passing. If there is a delay in organ recovery, this may also delay funeral services. N/AYes, traditionally, cremation should happen within 24 hours of death. Delays in recovery may impact the timing of cremation. No, services should take place within seven days of death. Donation should not have any impact on the timing of services.

 

For Dignity Memorial providers, there is no greater honor than helping to celebrate every life with compassion and attention to detail that is second to none. They understand the funeral and interment customs of many faiths and cultures and promise to create unique remembrances that honor these traditions.

If you have specific questions about what your religion says about donation, or how donation may affect funeral services, please contact your faith leader and preferred funeral provider, or visit the page on Organ Donation and Religion at DonateLife.net

Special thanks to Funeral Director Sherry Bensimon (New York, NY) and Funeral Home Manager Jay Poster (Las Vegas, NV) for sharing their knowledge on how donation may impact various aspects of funeral rituals. 

¹ PRRI – Religion Census 2022
² An Imam is a religious leader in Islam who leads congregational prayers, serves as spiritual guides, community leaders and scholars, provides guidance on religious matters and sometimes plays a broader role in the social and educational aspects of the community.