Pagans and Organ Donation

MetaPagan started this conversation on Pagans and organ donation. They want to ferret out how we individual Pagans feel about organ donation.

At 18, when I got my drivers license, I signed the form to be an organ donor. My thoughts at the time were pretty much the same as everyone else’s: I’m not using them when I’m dead so someone else should.

There was even a point when I called one of the Boston hospitals and tried to just give a kidney away (they wouldn’t take it) and when Matt, my ex, and I got in a huge fight about it. He didn’t want his organs donated because he felt his Jewish faith prohibited it (does the Jewish faith prohibit organ donation? What about organ receipt?) and I told him I would donate his organs anyways (although I really couldn’t because we weren’t married to one another).

But as the years have gone on I’ve done a 180* on the subject. I don’t want my organs donated. I want them to be cremated along with me. Why? For two primary reasons.

First, because the medical community has overstepped its bounds.

I worked in health care for over a decade and came to realize the general idea in health care is if someone dies that person failed. They failed to fight hard enough. They didn’t want to live. They gave up.


The doctor failed. S/he didn’t fight hard enough. They didn’t care about their patient. They gave up.



Americans fear death. But I don’t.

Second, I believe in a quality of life, not quantity. Recipients of donated organs do not have quality of life, they have quantity. Their lives are ruled by medications, tests, prohibitions, of restricted activities and thoughts of “what if.” They are alive but not alive. I have never met a recipient who was overjoyed to be alive well after the surgery took place (I’ve met them shortly after when they were elated but after some time that elation wares off).

It seems to me many of the organ recipients do it for others: their wives, husbands, children. And parents do it because they cannot bear to lose their children. I understand those sentiments. I empathize with them. But I don’t agree with them.

Death is the end of life and we shouldn’t be fighting against it like we do. Billions of dollars are spent keeping people alive who should have died. I know this makes me sound cold and callous but I’m not. I’m just being bluntly honest and open about my feelings on organ donation and how I feel it’s unnatural and inappropriate. We die. We’re supposed to. To try and eliminate death is not a worthy goal. Death brings life but not in the organ donation sense.

Edited to add:

It occurred to me earlier I didn’t really respond to the question from a Pagan perspective, rather, I responded from a socio-economic perspective. So I’m going to try again.

Paganism is the worship of Mother Earth. She gestates and births us, nourishes us, provides us with all we need to live our lives: food, water, other humans for companionship and procreation. From her depths comes the medicines we need to cure curable ailments.

Volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, plagues, famine all work to maintain the delicate balance Mother Earth needs. During these trying times, lives end: human, plant, animal, and everything in between.
And lives end even on the sunniest, warmest days of gentle breezes.

Organisms are born and die. It’s the way of our planet, of our Mother. No plant, animal, or human can live forever. To negate death, or even attempt to, is fruitless and a little arrogant. Who are we to think we can overcome death? Who are we to “cheat” death, to remove ourselves from a “death grip”, to extract ourselves from “the jaws of death?”

To put an organ from one individual to another is one person’s — or a team persons — attempt to supersede and “cheat” death. The end will come and I don’t see any reason to fight it.

If every organism lived forever we would be living on one very crowded planet.

We fear death and I don’t know why. It’s the natural end to life. Some deaths come quickly some slowly. Certainly I think it’s appropriate to comfort the dying, to help them through the Veil and to make the transition as painless as possible. But to try and harvest organs from an individual to put into another desecrates both bodies: the one who will have their organs removed and the one who will have foreign organs placed into it.

If organ donation was really the answer to illness, one wouldn’t need so many pharmaceuticals and other interventions to make the process work easier. But it’s not. It throws of the balance of the recipient’s body just as it throws of Mother Earth’s balance.

I may add more to this when I feel up to it. My balance is off.

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9 Responses to Pagans and Organ Donation

  1. jayedee says:

    heavy thoughts for so early in my day.

    for the most part, i’m in agreement with you……..BUT
    i’ve never been in the place where i’ve had to make that decision for a loved one. while i try, pretty hard, to be true
    to my beliefs, i’m afraid all the rules might fall by the wayside if i were looking down at my kid, yellow from jaundice, who needed a new liver to live another year.

    a few years ago, i did lose a kid. to suicide, not physical disease, but oh what i wouldn’t do or give to have him back with us.

    hard choices. hard choices.

  2. Howling Hill says:

    jayedee: If a loved one wants their organs donated then I would regardless of my beliefs. Say, for instance, my brother. He believes in, and supports, organ donation. If the decision was up to me (because he was unable to make the decision) I would follow his desires and belief system, not my own. But for myself I don’t want my organs donated and I’ve said it to my relatives so they know where I stand. Even if they believe in it, I would hope they would honor my wishes by refusing.

    I am so sorry to hear you lost a child. I cannot imagine the pain you must feel because I don’t have kids. But I can empathize with you and offer comfort.

  3. erikka says:

    this is not an easy subject to dismiss or give an answer to.

    hm…you can definitely decide what happens to you and your body when you die…but should you really base your decision on the recipients feelings and lifestyles if you do not know them? how many patients did you see in this circumstance?
    what percentage were not happy, as you say?

    i’ve got to think about this more.

  4. erikka says:

    ps. what I meant by the percentage question is – can you really blanket statement that all patients end up unhappy and leading half lives? that is very big generalization to say. even if you worked in the field, I’d think you didn’t see every patient or know them intimately enough, but i also don’t know the capacity in which you worked in health care.

    just lots of assumptions to make, both of us.

  5. Noelle says:

    I agree with you that sometimes life seems extended unnaturally, but I would also argue that there are people who have received organ donations and went on to do some amazing things, without having to do much more than take anti-rejection meds.

    Also, since you’re on the green thing, you should really consider green burial instead of cremation, which is downright awful, environmentally.

    I like to think of organ donation as a kind of recycling project.

  6. Howling Hill says:

    Noelle: when I was six years old, my dad died suddenly. One day he went to work and never came home. And after that day, I had some really terrible nightmares. Every night I would wake up screaming, covered in sweat, because I dreamed bugs were eating Dad.

    I know burying is the green thing to do. I know allowing our bodies to go back to the earth is appropriate. But after 30 years I still cannot get those nightmares out of my head. I just cannot bring myself to be buried, slowly rotting away. Even now, just thinking about it scares the crap out of me. So I want to speed up the decomposition process by being cremated.

  7. Noelle says:

    My sister has a similar fear.

  8. Please allow me to differ with your belief that the recipients of organ donations have “quantity of life, not quality of life”. One of my students, a healthy, active 15 year old, would be dead without his donated kidney. He is unusual in how little he has struggled with rejection syndrome–which can, indeed, make life for organ recipients difficult–but his life would have ended long before his first kiss if hadn’t gotten his kidney. As it is, he’s a talented baseball player, an avid reader, and a really sweet guy coming into an adulthood that’s not been much harmed by the rule of “no contact sports.”

    I’ve also been friends for the past twenty years with a really talented Pagan teacher, Chuck Furnace. Chuck, too–or Chuck 2.0, as he styles himself to his friends–would have died without the heart that replaced his own after his near-fatal heart attack in ’06. And though the first year after his transplant was _very_ difficult, and he is still quite careful to follow medical advice, his energy is once again abundant. He’s teaching, he’s active, he lives with the woman he loves, and we, his community, rejoice in each day he gives to _us_. Perhaps someday you’ll be lucky enough to take a class with Chuck, or sit around telling Pagan lightbulb jokes til two in the morning! When you do, you’ll know that organ donation can be a very worthwhile gift, indeed…

    (For more about Chuck, you can read his official bio–including _his_ take on the heart attack and transplant–at . Just scroll down.)

  9. I understand where you are coming from on wanting to keep your organs and respect your choice to do so. I do agree as well that our medical community does try to hold onto life when nature indicates that certain lives should be over.

    Personally, for me though from a Pagan standpoint I would donate my organs. When I leave my body it is no longer mine, I won’t need my organs anymore. I do hope that if my organs are even in a usable condition by the time I pass away that they use my organs for both transplants and education. My letting go of the body that I have used, for me it feels like giving back both to the Earth and the community that remains… food for both I suppose in one way or the other.

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