Organ Donation and Leaving Body to Science

A few years back I decided to become an organ donor upon my passing. It’s been a decision which required a lot of faith to make, and it still requires a lot of faith to maintain. There’s something about affirmatively checking the donor box on one’s driver’s license that is a bit frightening - as if a part of onesself has already been lost. But the belief that I may be able to do some good even beyond my natural life has sustained the decision.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating taking it a step further. I started thinking about leaving the rest of my body to science. I have no idea what “science” does with mortal remains, or even what legal procedures one must go through to prepare for such a thing. So, while ignorant, you can see I have a lot of questions, including the religious ramifications of leaving one’s body to science.

It seems okay in the Catholic sense. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust, yes? I have a heroic Catholic friend from my youth who passed trying to save some other people, and his remains were so badly decomposed when they found him, he ended up being cremated. Some Saints, like St Theresa of Avila, when they are found to be whole and incorrupt, are nevertheless chopped up into bits and pieces and distributed all over for veneration. Why we do this to heavenly souls God’s grace has somehow preserved and made incorruptible - I honestly dont know… It doesn’t seem the least bit redeeming to me, or respectful of the dead; but, then - with respect to leaving my body to science, I figure - if it is good for the goose, it is good for the gander.

That said, it makes me wonder if in fact there would be something religiously good in leaving my body to science, as I have also done (to a lesser extent) in becoming an organ donor? Do we have any people here who know much about this?

The only counter-argument I can fathom would be legendary accounts of something like people who die without their shoes, and then they come back as a ghost to tell a relative to make sure their shoes are placed in the coffin. That way they have something to wear on their feet in heaven. Again, I attribute that to “legend” - like a sort of folklore - not necessarily scientific reasoning, or even Theology.

Theologically, Christ spilled his blood for us, so he could be resurrected in a glorified body - thus, it seems like getting cremated or recycled or anatomically cut into pieces doesn’t really matter very much, and it could actually do some good. But - if anyone knows - what is the actual belief we hold, please?

Thanks and God Bless,

Wm

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The Catechism has this:

2296 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…

2301 Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research…

The key requirement is that the body should be treated with respect, and buried when the research institution or medical school is done with it. I think they are aware of this, and they make the appropriate arrangements.

2300 The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Cremation is allowed.

The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.

The ashes should be buried, not scattered or kept at home. More on that here:
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20160815_ad-resurgendum-cum-christo_en.html

As for how to prepare for it procedurally or legally, find out if there is a medical school near you, and inquire of them. Alternatively, a major hospital or research hospital may be able to guide you.

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That was very cool. :slight_smile: Thank you very much!

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