As Scottish voters take to the polls today to vote on whether or not to declare independence from the United Kingdom, the Scottish bishops have released a statement on another matter: proposed “opt-out” legislation concerning organ donation in that country.
The Proposed Organ and Tissue Donation (Scotland) Bill, according to the Bishops Conference of Scotland, removes the
“…important principle of consent in our legal system and undermines the integrity of the person.”
The bill in question would, in the eyes of the Catholic bishops, establish a presumption of consent for organ donation. The Catholic Church supports organ donation, but only when approved in advance by the donor. The bishops’ statement explains further:
“The present system recognizes the importance of genuine consent in the treatment of persons and the charitable nature of organ donation which is based on a gratuitous act of kindness on behalf of the donor.”
And family members, according to the Scottish bishops, should play a role in the decision to donate organs.
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So what, exactly, does the Catholic Church teach about organ donation?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses organ donation and respect for the person and scientific research. Paragraph 2296 lists four points:
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 sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a 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 to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote of organ donation as a charitable work in November 2008:
“Organ donation is a peculiar form of witness to charity. In a period like ours, often marked by various forms of selfishness, it is ever more urgent to understand how the logic of free giving is vital to a correct conception of life. Indeed, a responsibility of love and charity exist that commits one to make of their own life a gift to others, if one truly wishes to fulfil oneself. As the Lord Jesus has taught us, only whoever gives his own life can save it (cf. Lk 9: 24).”