Thursday, 29 November 2007

Dilemmas in Praying for an Organ Transplant

Let me start by stating that if I believed human beings were just their bodies and that consciousness ceased at the moment of death, I wouldn’t be writing this article. There would be no ethical dilemmas with organ transplantation, and the donation – not the selling – of one’s organs to a fellow human being would be a highly altruistic gesture. I ought to mention this as an introduction to the following.

At times of crises and human tragedies or ‘trials’, believing in a personal, omnipotent and all loving God is comforting and soothing, while in many occasions is even saving. However, any unpleasant outcome leaves the praying Christian,...

or any believer, with hundreds of questions to which the seeker of Truth is agonizing to find logical answers. But it is all in vain. Convincing answers that make sense to the inquirer cannot be found, never mind if the seeker were intelligent or a devout believer, ready to accept any reasonable explanation from the personal Triadic God of Christianity.

Let us consider the serious illness of the Archbishop of Greece, Mr. Christodoulos - my sympathy and best wishes to him - as a case study. I will not attempt to give any appropriate answers, as I believe in an IMPERSONAL Deity, the Universal Sovereign Law and Intelligent Spiritual Energy permeating every atom of the created but ever-evolving Universe - a belief that enables me to perceive reasonable answers to my questions. 

By that I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers and know it all. Far from it! In this article, however, I shall only pose questions on behalf of a devout Christian, questions arising from Christianity’s basic, but often unfriendly to reason, beliefs. After reading the pertinent questions, the unbiased and open-minded reader may seek convincing answers for him/herself, by reasoning, praying and meditating.

On Saturday 18th of August 2007, the Archbishop of Greece had departed from Elefsina military airport, in the prime-ministerial jet, on a flight to Miami, in the United States. He was due to undergo a liver transplant surgery by Greek-American doctor Andreas Tzakis, who is a professor of surgery and transplants at Miami University and a specialist surgeon at the Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital USA. The cost of the entire operation would be undertaken by the Greek Government. Fair enough! There is nothing strange or mysterious about all this. Any human being would and should use all means available to save one’s precious life.

However, the relevant questions arising in the heart and mind of an intelligent believer have to do with the specific kind of treatment – organ transplant – and the invocation of a personal God to effect one’s healing. In the understanding of contemplative Christians, somewhere in the process of organ transplant, there is a subtle clash between faith in Science and faith in God, although religious leaders of most Christian denominations will not admit it. 

And, yes, there is a clash between body and soul, i.e. between the ephemeral interests of the body and the belief in the immortality and spiritual interests of the soul. 

There might even be a clash between the will of God or ‘destiny’ and the will of man, i.e. between what is best for the entire person – spirit, soul and body – and what carnal man wants right now. 

There are also questions of social justice arising from the lack of equal opportunities and financial resources among human beings to be answered.

Speaking before his departure, Archbishop Christodoulos had revealed that Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, when he visited him on Friday night, a few hours before his critical journey to Miami, gave him his personal amulet – an amulet that allegedly contained a tiny piece of wood from the Holy Cross – in order to help him return in good health. 

The Archbishop was most grateful for receiving this precious gift. “I will carry the love of the people with me, and I am sure that God will help me so that everything goes well,” said Mr. Christodoulos, and he added: “A testing experience like this makes one humbler and able to view life from a different perspective.”

In the heartfelt interview, which the Archbishop gave to the Greek Sunday paper, ‘To PARON’ (August 19, 2007), Mr. Christodoulos said, “I leave for America with great faith in God, who protects me, and with great confidence in my doctor, Mr. Tzakis, who has assured me that my problem is curable, and it is treatable through modern medical technology.
So I surrender myself to his hands, and I believe that eventually, with God’s help and with the prayers of so many thousands of people here, who offer supplications and liturgies for the Archbishop’s health, and with the doctors’ help, in the end we shall also defeat this enemy – let me put it this way – and we shall return, as Dr. Tzakis says, with completely renewed strength and in better shape than we are now.”

And Mr. Christodoulos added, “I believe that this trial fits within God’s plan, although for me it has been like a blue sky lightning, because I had such an extensive and manifold activity that nothing presaged that there was so great a damage within my body. (…) There have been moments when I said to God, ‘Why me? Why to me and not somewhere else?’ 

But eventually I took my words back, and I said to myself that this seems like an insult, it sounds like a blasphemy, and it is like judging God for that which befell upon me. Nevertheless, because we teach that whatever happens to people is never accidental but it falls within a plan of God, I firmly believe that God has also His own plan for me which is being applied.”

I have only translated and quoted here a small fraction of the Archbishop’s inspirational interview, selecting what, in my opinion, facilitates the seeker’s pertinent questions that I shall list below. By the way, for those who know Greek, it is worth reading Mr. Christodoulos’ entire interview (, which is undoubtedly edifying and reveals that he has great faith in God and his doctor, something that surely generates tremendous inner power to effect his healing. I, too, wish him a complete recovery.

So, then, since, beside the medical and legal, death has inherent spiritual, philosophical and ethical aspects, let me list the believer’s critical questions now:

1. If a personal and omnipotent God enabled Science to invent medical technology and perform human organ transplants, why hasn’t He enabled researchers to find a cure for cancer, so that someone in need of a new liver, e.g., wouldn’t need to be waiting in the list – sometimes for several years – praying for a suitable ‘brain dead’ donor to be found? Is He unable or unwilling?

2. When patients are praying for an organ to be found and transplanted into them, aren’t they actually wishing for circumstances to be created so that a suitable donor gets an accident or a disease and becomes diagnosed as ‘brain dead’ in order for them to receive the donor’s healthy organ? To what extent such prayers, or simply fervent desires, attract the materialization of morbid conditions for those with a donor’s card?

3. If a personal God gets involved in human affairs and suffering by answering the prayers of those seeking an organ transplant, doesn’t it imply that their lives are considered as more important than those of the donors whom God leaves unprotected and unaided to fall into ‘brain dead’ or comatose states, in order to save the former? Aren’t all people equal in the eyes of God?

4. Since some people have recovered from comatose states, after days, months or years, isn’t it equivalent to murder when surgeons remove a patient’s vital organs in order to transplant them to others?

5. If a ‘brain dead’ state of a person were equivalent to death, as it is thought, why a general anaesthesia is undertaken before the removal of donor’s organs? Isn’t it in order for the surgeons to prevent the actual death of the patient that would inevitably occur during their violent intrusion, in which case the donor’s organs would also be dead and hence useless?

6. Medically and legally, irreversible death is considered only when there is no respiration, no heartbeat, and no circulation. But all these functions continue even after brainstem death, albeit with some mechanical support, as it is verified by the warm body of the patient. If they didn’t, the donor’s organs would be dead and useless. 

Moreover, brainstem death does not imply total ‘brain death’, and it can be shown by electrical or other means that there is residual brain activity even after brainstem death. 
In the light of this, and since there are no external tests for proving consciousness, who can say with certainty that some inner consciousness doesn’t exist inside the donor’s brain prior to his/her organ removal, just as in cases of “locked-in syndrome”?

7. Since consciousness is still there, who knows what kind of preparatory spiritual contemplations is the potential donor’s soul undergoing while approaching the most sacred moment of its final separation from the body? 

And who knows how much the donor’s soul suffers and what it loses spiritually because of the interruption of its possibly self-purifying activity during the violent attack of surgeons for the removal of the body’s vital organs?
Who, under the sun, has been given the right to violate what should be the most fundamental human right to a peaceful and dignified death, as if human beings simply consisted of a bundle of material tissues?

8. There is no doubt that consciousness exists in every cell of the body and, much more, in every vital organ of the body. Moreover, it has been found that recipients of organ transplants have often taken up some of the characteristics of the donor’s personality. What, then, are the implications for the departed fragmented soul of the donor?

If what we call “soul” is but the human consciousness surviving after death and continuing its life, and possibly progress, in another mode of existence, how would it feel when some physical organs retaining its consciousness are scattered in different people here and there? Would such a soul be able to find peace and normally continue its journey in the spiritual realm or would it be utterly confused and earthbound?

9. Since thoughts are living entities and tend to create or attract what one has been thinking of, and since imagination is also a creative force, tending to materialize what one imagines, to what extent someone who decides to become a donor and signs a donor’s card subconsciously creates the circumstances for an accident or an illness that would bring his desire to pass?

10. Is it right for parents to influence their underage children to sign a donor’s card? And since transplantable organs especially from children are in short supply, wouldn’t this organ-transplant aggressive industry lead to the exploitation of the poor and even to the kidnapping of children in order for their vital organs to be removed and used for the children of the privileged ones? 

As chemical and temperature control can extend the life of a disembodied organ for many hours, allowing them to be flown across the world, what are the dangers lying in ambush for children of starving families in Third World countries?


“Transplants - are the donors really really dead?” – By David Hill

“Bioethics and Japanese Culture: Brain Death, Patients’ Rights, and Cultural Factors.” – By Masahiro Morioka 

“Is it Morally Acceptable to Remove Organs from Brain-Dead Children?” - By Masahiro Morioka 

“Renowned bioethicist calls selling human organs ‘dehumanizing’.” – By Becky Straw 

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