Mormons and death: Giving the gift of life
When I first signed up to write this post, I had stories to tell. Specific stories about how tragedy in one family lead to a new dawn for another. How tearful prayers on one side were answered with great blessings, while the courageous actions on another made them possible. How congregations and communities were changed by an unknown family’s gift of life. So many terrifyingly beautiful stories of love.
And … I can’t share them. In between the date I signed up, and the date I started writing, my hospital constructed a policy that forbids me from sharing these stories. I’ve struggled with how to write this post. Honor my employer, and scrub away the personal voice? Or honor this community, and share the urgency I feel for this issue? In the end, I’ve tried to walk a middle path. I have a lot of the structure of the issue here. Please help me fill in the details with your input and personal stories.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, there are approximately 110,586 people listed for organ donation. On average, 75 people a day receive an organ transplant. And about 18 people die each day, waiting. While science may provide a supply some day in the future, and we haven’t descended to the point of cloning and cultivating like in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, the need far outstrips the supply.
The list of transplantable organs includes: liver, kidney, pancreas, heart, lung, and intestines. In most cases, the donor has suffered brain or cardiac death. However, with livers, kidneys, lungs, pancreases and intestines, it is also possible to perform living donor transplants, where only a portion of the organ is donated, and the healthy donor is able to live an unfettered life.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has very little information about organ donation on the official website. In fact, there are more links for people wanting to donate pipe organs to meeting houses, than there are for people looking for answers to life-or-death questions. The most pertinent link is to an Ensign article from February 1988. In this article, Cecil O. Samuelson, Jr., regional representative and physician, who is not speaking in an official church capacity, gave a very cautious endorsement. He also noted that, “organ transplantation does not affect one’s resurrection,” pointing to the promise of Alma 40:23, that “all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.” From the discussion on Jana’s Donor post, it would seem that many in the Exponent II Blog community agree.
Incidentally, I did see this statement on the US Department of Health and Human Services website, also echoed on the UNOS website:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes the donation of organs and tissues is a selfless act that often results in great benefit to individuals with medical conditions. The decision to will or donate one’s own body organs or tissue for medical purposes, or the decision to authorize the transplant of organs to tissue from a deceased family member is made by the individual or the deceased member’s family. The decision to receive a donated organ should be made after receiving competent medical counsel and confirmation through prayer.
I’ve seen both sides. I’ve seen parents, overwhelmed with grief, reach past their current tragedy and give the gift of a healthy tomorrow to another. I’ve cared for their children, held the parents as they cried, and shared in their mourning.
I’ve also seen sick children made well through these gifts. I’ve seen them wake from their surgeries, and helped them struggle back to a healthier life. I’ve helped these parents navigate their new found happiness and responsibilities.
How do you feel about organ donation? Would you do it for a family member or friend? Would you be willing to donate your organs to a stranger if you were brain dead? Please share how you came to this decision. Have you talked with your family about your views, and do they understand or agree with your wishes?