October 29th, 2010
02:37 PM ET

Your comments: Donating your body to science

Perhaps because Halloween is upon us and our minds are on all things ghoulish, our Empowered Patient column yesterday on ten uses for your body after you die (organ donation, museum submission, cadaver dissection for first-year medical students, among others) generated nearly 400 comments.

Some of you were distrustful, such as PeaceBWitU, who wrote, “Really folks, who can we trust these days? Who knows what they will really do to your body when you donate?” Others, such as Mike425, were thankful: “As a medical student, I can say that I am very grateful to those who have donated their bodies for my education.” Other comments were just, well, odd, such as: “Anyone else here remember a book of cartoons from c. 1979 called ‘101 Uses For A Dead Cat”?

You debated, with great passion, a few important bioethical points. One of the big ones: whether Christians should donate their body or body parts after death.

Several of you said it was wrong. “We need our bodies for when Christ returns,” wrote Cats1975. “Desecrating it is dishonoring God.”

HollyTheDoll agreed. “Be ready to answer to God why you gave away your body without HIS consent,” she wrote. “You don't own your body after you die but only Almighty has the right over your body and that is the reason you are buried.”

As DockOck pointed out in his comment, many Christian denominations fully support organ donation, including the Catholic church, the Episcopal church, and the Southern Baptist Convention. You can find a complete list of religious viewpoints on organ donation from the New York Organ Donor Network.

But what about Cats1975’s belief that “we need our bodies for when Christ returns”?

“It’s a naïve belief that at the end of time the way resurrection of the body will happen demands that body parts be all intact when you die,” says Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, a Franciscan friar and an internist.

Putting your body to good use – giving someone a lifesaving kidney, or helping educate a medical student – are all permissive uses under Catholic teachings says Sulmasy, a professor of medical ethics at the University of Chicago.

Even if you bury the body, it’s not going to be whole for the resurrection anyways, he says. “It’s going to rot. That’s what happens,” he says. “Something deep in our theology says that the body, when resurrected, is going to be different. At the resurrection of Jesus, people initially didn’t recognize him.”

What about donating your body to a museum or a travelling show? That depends, he says, on whether the show is educational and scientifically useful, or whether it’s pure spectacle.

David Smith, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale University, agrees with Sulmasy. “It’s a huge Christian imperative to share and to love,” he says. “We speak of people offering of themselves, and it may be money – in fact, it’s almost always money – but it’s not a great leap to think they have an imperative to share of their bodies, especially if it doesn’t hurt them.”

St. Augustine dealt with this very issue 1,500 years ago, Smith says.

“He was confronted with the question of what happens in the resurrection to someone who’s lost their leg, or was eaten by animals,” Smith says. “Augustine argued that it’s like clay. God will take whatever he can get his hands on, so to speak, and remold the human being into another human being. God can do that.”

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Tucson

    Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. OR. . . Give to the world what belongs to the world

    November 1, 2010 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Liz

      Julius Ceasar = Jesus Christ

      February 1, 2012 at 01:39 | Report abuse |
  2. Pete Zaria

    If the Christians really believe that God is omnipotent and all-powerful, why do they believe their bodies would need to be intact to be resurrected? If God can really do *anything* then surely He could create new body parts.
    Donating your organs to save other lives seems like a very Christian thing to do – to oppose it seems naive and closed-minded.
    The question on my mind is this: If God is truly omnipotent, could He create a rock so heavy that He could not lift it?

    November 1, 2010 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chuck Norris

      How could you be so foolish as to ask that question? That's like asking who would win in a fight between Chuck Norris and Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris can't be beaten, not even by Chuck Norris.

      November 3, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse |
  3. autom

    Well, they believe in zombies, because by all definitions, that's what Jesus would be. They believe in an invisible man in the sky. They believe you can create a woman out of a man's rib. It's really no surprise that they would have illogical ideas about their body after death too.

    November 1, 2010 at 21:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Liz

      you are speaking of metaphors from the bible.

      February 1, 2012 at 01:41 | Report abuse |
  4. Mike Vargas

    Sounds like another item to add to whatstheharm.net. It's yet another problem with believing in superstitious myths.

    November 2, 2010 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. K. West

    I am dissappointed at the reaction by many bloggers against organ and body donation. Most mainstream Christian religions believe that donation is a personal choice, and that the Resurrection and Afterlife have nothing to do with the physical resurrection of the body, but that of consciousness itself.

    Personally, I have witnessed the life-saving and improvement impact of organ, tissue and whole body donations. My Father has received two cornea transplants; he would be blind today without someone's generousity in donating their deceased relative's tissue. A cousin of mine, a middle aged woman with two adult children, received a liver transplant in 1998, which saved her life.

    Speaking for myself, I am a whole body donor to a medical school. When I die, my hope is that my remains will be dissected by first year students as a teaching tool. Personally, I would be deeply if my cadaver joins the ranks of medical school cadavers in gross anatomy lab.

    Without this hands-on, practical experience, surgeons and general practice physicians would not be able to successfully treat patients. Ultimately, whole body and organ donations save lives, and that final, ultimate gift on the part of donors is about as Christian an act as Earthly possible.

    November 3, 2010 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. speeeed

    Hi, regards all 🙂

    February 3, 2011 at 17:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. katherine phares

    I am so glad that I decided to donate my body, and I do believe God will be very pleased with me

    December 10, 2013 at 19:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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