Sunday, November 14, 2004

"Let your light shine before others" - The National Donor Sabbath

On Thursday, I had the blessing to be able to meet with Mike Henderson, the education director of Gift of Hope, the main organ/tissue donor network in Illinois. I've talked about how important I think this is in the past, so I won't bore you (you can check out my earlier post here.) But here's why I keep harping on this - and why I think this is a big deal:

I believe that organ and tissue donation is the ultimate expression of charity and love for one's neighbor. It is as Biblical a practice as you can find - and it is also a place where the actions of a faith community can become really, really relevant to the unchurched world. When we encourage donation of organs and tissues, those donations help "our neighbors" - all of them. Christian or Muslim, churched or unchurched, regardless of color, creed, sexual orientation, economic standing - none of that matters, in this case. Organ and tissue donation becomes the one truly selfless act of charity and love that we can take.

Here is some critical information, that should be known especially by people of faith everywhere:

Only 5% (one out of 20!) of all registered organ & tissue donors will likely be able to donate organs. It's a complicated issue - but basically, if a potential donor dies a "cardiac" death (e.g., heart attack, most disease processes, old age) the organs do not stay viable enough for transplant. Tissues are still OK (eyes, skin, blood vessels), but not organs (heart, kindey, lungs, liver, etc). Only the 5% (or so) of people who die "brain death" - stroke, aneurysm, some type of trauma that causes brain death, but where a person's organs can be sustained on a ventilator - can actually donate those organs. So it's critical that everybody who possibly can sign up as an organ-donor actually does sign up - just to make that 5% as big as possible!

Family support is critical! Nationwide, only about 50% of the people who actually signed their drivers' licenses, or universal-donor cards, ever get to donate - because no matter what, the donor's family has the last word on whether donation happens or not!! You can be "on the table," with a signed and witnessed organ-donor card, but if the family says "no," that's it. Period. That's why it's so important that you get your family members to be the "witnesses" on a driver's license or an organ-donor card, and why you need to tell them what you want, and how important it is to you.

Almost every major faith tradition supports organ and tissue donation. This is what I spent most of my time talking with Mike Henderson about - the fact that churches (and especially seminaries!) need to educate potential chaplains, pastors, teachers, Stephen Ministers, and anyone-who-will-listen about their faith traditions' stand on organ and tissue donation. You can go here to the Gift of Hope clergy resources, and see how various religious traditions view organ and tissue donations, as well as "10 ways you can help."

Mike pointed out an important concept to me... one that it seems almost no one understands. Deciding about organ and tissue donation - the gift of life and hope to those who live on after we die - is as much a part of "end of life decisions" as funeral planning, buying insurance, or a living will. The time to decide about being an organ/tissue donor is not when you, or your spouse, child, parent or friend is lying in ICU on a ventilator! Many times, baseless fears about preserving the physical completeness of one's body (sometimes, based on fears about jeopardizing "the resurrection of the body") prevents people of faith from donating organs and tissues.

The second Sunday before Thanksgiving is always the observance of The National Donor Sabbath. Please - put it on your church's worship and education planning calendars for next year. Wherever you are, find your local organ-donor network at The Coalition on Donation, and hook up with them. Look at how your faith community can partner with schools and civic organizations to build participation and awareness for this worthy cause. What a simple way for communities of faith to say, "Our faith and our beliefs matter - not just inside this building, but out in the world!"

My own ongoing crusade will be to reach out through the Association of Chicago Theological Schools (the ACTS consortium) to try to get this message out to every person who's preparing for clinical pastoral education (CPE) sessions. The 12 ACTS-member seminaries have almost 2,500 students - a significant number of them headed toward pastoral or chaplaincy roles. Those students, along with faculty and staff, could be an incredible resource in breaking down walls of ignorance about this topic. And let's face it - who will end up involved in end-of-life situations more than these people will?

1 comment:

Talmida said...

Something else that might encourage a religious person -- you're getting a lot of extra prayers for the deceased donor. I know my mother prays daily for the soul of the anonymous man whose kidney keeps her alive, and the rest of our family keeps him in mind too.