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Talking Organ Donation -Different faiths support same view Multi-faith discussions.
Members of the multi-faith panel included, Frank Markel, president and CEO of Trillium Gift of Life Network; Dr. David Grant, surgical director, Multi-Organ Transplant Program and Father Frank Portelli, St. Luke’s Catholic Church met to discuss the importance of organ donation.
GOOD TO KNOW
• More than 1,500 patients are waiting for a transplant in Ontario. Every three days, one person dies waiting.
• When they don’t know their loved one’s wishes, only 52 per cent of family members agree to donate their tissue or organs.
They came to discuss issues of faith and organ donation, but it was the story of a young girl and the death of her father that brought an audience to tears and brought the discussion home.
Almost 100 gathered in Thornhill Tuesday night to hear clergy from a variety of faiths discuss how religious views affect tissue and organ donation.
But when Jocelyn White took the stage and described how the process affected her children, it became more than an abstract discussion — it became the story of a family’s love. “Back in the day, like most 16-year-olds, when I got my driver’s licence, I turned it over and signed the consent form for organ donation,” Ms White told a packed auditorium at the Heintzman House. She had no idea this simple act would resonate several times over the years, first in 1993 when her sister-in-law’s life was saved with a heart transplant. “This summer, we celebrated her daughter’s wedding in B.C.,” Ms White said, wiping her eyes. “Without that transplant, she would not have witnessed or participated.”
Twelve years later, Ms White’s husband Dave died awaiting a heart transplant.
“During his last moments in hospital I had one question for the nurses: ‘Can Dave be a donor for someone else?’… We wanted someone to do it for us. How could we not do it for someone else?” Dave White’s lung, liver, kidney and pancreas were given to those in need, but his eyes — “his bright, blue, beautiful eyes” — gave her daughter pause. “She wanted to be a journalist and I told her, what if someday, somebody reads something you wrote with Dad’s eyes?” Those words helped her make the decision and helped ease their pain “to know in our mourning, someone else was rejoicing”.
“At the very worst moment of my life, something wonderful happened. Something life-enhancing, something live-saving.”
Mohan Bissoondial also moved the audience as he described despair, as he lost his eyesight and renewed life thanks to two corneal transplants. “I have a lot to be thankful for… especially the two people who had the foresight, wisdom and courage to leave their corneas.”
The question of religious belief was not a hurdle for those donors or for the White family, but for many — especially in the multicultural GTA — it can be, said Terry Winston, executive director of Hospice Thornhill. Hospice, in collaboration with Trillium Gift of Life Network, presented Tuesday’s multi-faith organ and tissue donation awareness evening. Many of Hospice Thornhill’s clients struggle to reconcile their religious beliefs with organ donation, said Mr. Winston. The five clergymen, representing Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Lutheran and Hindu faiths, who took part in the event agreed religious belief need not stand in the way.
Organ and tissue donation is not only permissible in the Jewish religion, said Rabbi Philip Scheim, it is a mitzvah, or obligation. “It is a duty of the highest order,” said the rabbi of Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am in North York. “The saving of a life trumps theology.”
The Catholic faith also permits tissue and organ donation, said Father Frank Porelli, with St. Luke’s Roman Catholic Church in Thornhill. “Nothing is greater than this altruism, this gift where you do not receive anything in return.” Within the Islamic tradition, “Anyone who saves a life is said to have served humanity” and there is no clear-cut text forbidding organ donation for Muslims, said Imam Abdulla Idris Ali, a board member of the Islamic Teaching Center, North American Islamic Trust. Pastor Derek Mathers, from the Church of St. Luke – Lutheran in North York, spoke with direct experience: his daughter’s life was saved by a liver and heart transplant. Some Protestant groups select scripture to argue against organ donation, but it is taken out of context, he said. “Nothing in the Bible forbids it.”
The Lutheran church encourages congregants to make the choice to donate, but whatever the individual decides, there should be no guilt, he said.
Dr. Budhendranauth Doobay, a cardiologist and spiritual leader with Vishnu Mandir in Richmond Hill, noted religious texts being consulted for direction on the issue were composed long before organ donation existed, but reluctance remains among many Hindis, European communities and “especially in the Indian community which is very concerned about maiming the body”. He attributes that reluctance to lack of awareness and education.
“We believe the body is not you; you are something else,” he said. “What is important is to do everything in one’s power to save or facilitate better life.”
Religions in the past may have prohibited organ donation because of danger involved in transplants, but the clergy agreed today’s medical advances have erased that danger. Donating from one faith to another — a Jewish heart being given to a Muslim patient, for example — was also considered a non-issue.
“Saving a life is saving a life,” said Rabbi Scheim.
To register consent to donate, visit www.giftoflife.on.ca
It is then important to discuss your wishes with your family.