The Catholic Church in England and Wales is giving its backing an ecumenical campaign encouraging blood and organ donation.
There have been serious misgivings among Catholic doctors and philosophers about the criteria employed to determine the point of death for a potential donor, but this week’s announcement by Archbishop of Southwark Peter Smith gives formal backing in principle to the campaign to mobilise Christians to recognise blood and organ donation as acts of Christian generosity.
Speaking as chairman of the Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the archbishop said: “In the words of Pope John Paul II, ‘We should rejoice that medicine, in its service of life, has found in organ transplantation a new way of serving the human family.’
“The Catholic Church is clear that, in itself, it is a good and meritorious thing freely to donate our organs after we are dead. Even while we are alive, actions such as giving blood can be a powerful expression of human solidarity and of Christian charity.”
The ethics of organ donation have recently been considered in a report by an international group of clinicians, philosophers, and theologians, convened by the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford, which attempts to set out the ethical requirements that must be met if transplant medicine is to merit the support of Catholics.
Professor David Jones, director of the centre, said: “Our document is an attempt to provide information for people to be properly informed. That gives the bishops freedom to be able to support the idea, without it being a blank cheque.
“It is important because, in principle, organ donation is a great thing, but it must be voluntary and informed. Some things are clear and others are not. There is a move towards presumed consent and that undermines the whole ethos of it being a gift, rather than something which is just taken.
“There are also technical issues – effectively how dead do you have to be to be dead? There are criteria which the medical experts have confidence in, but not everybody has equal confidence in.
“Not everybody agrees, and what we want to do in this document is be honest where there are differences without exaggerating or hiding them. It aims to help people think about it for themselves.”