Q: Does the Catholic Church have a position about donating one’s body to science? I have registered as an organ donor but would also like to leave my body to help the training of future doctors.
A: The Catholic Church considers organ donation perfectly legitimate and even commendable—as long as the donation is made freely and other rights are respected. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “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 that is sought for the recipient.
“Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an 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 directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons” (article 2296).
In the case of organ transplants from someone who has died in a hospital and consented to a donation, there should be separate medical teams for the donor and the recipient—in order to protect the rights of everyone and avoid any conflict of interest.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center has a “Resources by Topic” link at www.ncbcenter.org. Several documents can be accessed there for free. The NCBC also has for purchase 24 “Topic Packets” that contain thematic articles from the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, its monthly Ethics and Medicine newsletter and other sources. The NCBC can be contacted at (215) 877-2660 or at 6399 Drexel Road, Philadelphia, PA 19151-2511.
Apart from the issue of organ donation, leaving one’s body to science can enable future doctors, nurses and medical researchers to understand the human body better by witnessing an autopsy. Most clinical pastoral education programs for future chaplains also include this possibility. A potential donor should contact a medical college and make sure that his/her next of kin has that contact information.
Father Nicholas Lohkamp, O.F.M., a major contributor to this magazine and to St. Anthony Messenger Press, died recently. He had donated his body to science.