On 20th May, an opt-out system for organ donation was introduced in England. The Catholic Church has consistently encouraged its followers to consider organ donation. The act of donating organs before or after death has been considered a gift and an intrinsic good. However, a system of presumed consent risks taking away the right of the individual to exercise this decision, and therefore potentially undermines the concept of donation as a gift. Following the change in the law, all adults in England will be considered donors in the event of death, unless they have recorded a decision not to donate or are in one of the following excluded groups: those under the age of 18; people who lack the mental capacity to understand the new arrangements and take the necessary action; visitors to England, and those not living here voluntarily; and people who have lived in England for less than 12 months before their death. The Catholic Bishops’ of England and Wales have produced Guidelines for Catholics on Organ Donation, and how to record this decision online via the Organ Donation Register (ODR). The ODR also allows you to record your faith beliefs so that they may be respected in the event of death and organ donation. See the Bishops’ Guidelines:
CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF ENGLAND AND WALES
39 Eccleston Square, London SW1V 1BX
Organ Donation: A brief guide for Catholics
This brief guide presents Catholic teaching on organ donation, answers
common questions Catholics may have and provides sources for further
information and reflection.
The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019
The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act became law on 15 March 2019 and
will come into force in Spring 2020. Across the UK, around three people die
each day due to a lack of availability of donated organs. The law is being
changed in the hope that it will increase the supply of organs to help save and
improve more lives. The new system now requires that you ‘opt-out’ if you do
not wish to donate your organs and tissue, otherwise you may be considered a
A message from Bishop Paul Mason, the Catholic Bishop responsible for
Healthcare and Mental Health:
“Preparing for death should not be feared. These guidelines hope to
provide you with some information to help you make a well-informed decision
with regards to donating your organs after death. It is important to discuss this
with your family and loved ones so that they are aware of your decision and
can honour it. In turn, it is hoped that this may help to start a conversation so
that you too are able to make an informed choice about loved ones when the
Catholic Teaching on Organ Donation
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, ‘Organ donation after death
is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of
generous solidarity’ (2296). In response to the government Consultation on
introducing ‘opt-out’ consent for organ and tissue donation in England, the
Catholic Media Association (UK) and the Catholic Union of Great Britain stated
that, ‘It is an altruistic act of free giving and a genuine expression of charity
that looks beyond the death of the donor towards the gift of life to others. It offers a chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have
no other hope’.
Pope John Paull II, in his Address to the 18th International Congress of the
Transplantation Society (2000) said,
“…There is a need to instil in people’s hearts, especially in the hearts of the
young, a genuine and deep appreciation of the need for brotherly love, a love
that can find expression in the decision to become an organ donor.”
Whilst the Catholic Church considers voluntary organ donation as an intrinsic
good, Catholics also maintain the right to exercise a decision as to what
happens to their body after death, otherwise this undermines the concept of
donation as a gift. Christians value the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1
Corinthians 6:19) and look forward to a resurrection of the body at the end of
Yet, it is the Christian belief that nothing that happens to our body, before or
after death, can impact our relationship with God:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives… and after my skin has been thus
destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold,” (Job 19:25-27)
FAQ and where to seek further information:
What is organ donation?
Organ donation is giving an organ to someone who needs a transplant.
This donation will greatly enhance or save the life of the person who receives
the transplanted organ.
You can donate some or all of your organs and tissue. This includes the heart,
lungs, kidneys, liver, corneas, pancreas, tissue and small bowel. You can donate
after death or donate a kidney or part of your liver while you’re alive.
How do I register my decision?
You can find more information via the Organ Donation NHS website and
register your decision at: https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/register-todonate/. Here you will be able to access the Organ Donation Register (ODR),
record your faith/beliefs, or ‘opt-out’. If you have already registered via the
ODR, you can change your decision, or withdraw (remove your name) from the
register at any time via these means too.
Individuals registering as organ donors on the NHS Organ Donor Register are
now able to state on their registration whether or not they would like the NHS
to speak to their family, and anyone else appropriate, about how organ
donation can go ahead in line with their faith or belief system.
Will my relatives ultimately get to decide what happens to my
organs and tissue after death?
Under the Code of Practice, even after the new system is implemented, a
specialist nurse will always discuss with the deceased’s family whether their
loved one would have wished for their organs and tissue to be donated. This
process is easier if this has been discussed previously and if the potential donor
has registered their decision via one of the ways outlined above. NHS staff will
work with the family members to honour this decision. Family members can
also provide important information about the person’s history to help ensure
the donor’s organs can be transplanted safely.
Catholic chaplaincy support
In the event that a loved one is facing the prospect of donating organs, be
assured that at any point in this process you may seek the support of the
hospital chaplain who can offer pastoral care. Many hospital chaplains work
with people of all faiths. If you specifically want a Catholic Chaplain you can ask
for this and the hospital has an obligation to help you access that support as
part of its equality duty.
Where to seek further information:
• Information/Questions and answers around the law change:
• Information and resources regarding the Catholic perspective on organ
• Further information on the ethics of organ transplantation can be found in
the 2014 report, ‘On the Ethics of Organ Transplantation: A Catholic
Perspective’ by The Anscombe Bioethics Centre at