The Science and Theology of Death and Organ Donation

Is the determination of death a medical or theological matter? A bioethicist thinks theology has something to offer the conversation on death and organ donation.


This article also expresses some of the ethical questions that arise with these new technologies:

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I often tick people off with my view of organ donations for myself. I am not an organ donor. I’m not worried about being labeled brain dead and killed despite still being alive as in breathing or anything. I just believe that even though a hospital can’t charge for an organ, they obviously can and should be able to charge for the surgery and the one receiving the organ benefits by receiving an organ from someone who has healthy ones. It seems kidneys and livers are the main organs used. The average cost for a liver transplant is around $800k.

Health insurance companies rake in dozens of billions of dollars of profit a year. Tons of people needing organs spent years going unvaccinated, smoking, drinking or having unhealthy lifestyles.

So there would need to be 1 of 2 things in place for me to donate my organ.

1 would be allowing me to set up the parameters of my donation. Such as I want my organs to only go to kids, or not go to anyone with a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

2 I am able to set up a way for financial compensation for my organs being donated after death. The money would go to whoever is my beneficiary. Or either something like a company that handles organ donations know that I am donating my organs so that if my kid needs one in the future, and I’m dead, they will quickly receive one instead of someone receiving one who was not. That there is smaller waiting lists for these companies versus the national list.

But if I can’t get compensated for it or control guidelines on who get it, when I die I want all my organs to go to the worms and fungi.


Personally I think ONLY brain activity should be the criteria of death and heart beat ignored completely. It is clear you can live while your heart isn’t beating, but brain activity once gone is gone forever.

The best evidence has shown all recoverable coma patients maintain some brain activity, even those previously thought not to have any better measurements showed otherwise.

Then the reverse (the start of brain activity) should be consistently applied to fetuses as determining when life begins for purposes of abortion law.

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Not mere brain activity, but activity that shows a mind at work, e.g. dreaming or pleasure.

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I think there is still a difference. Because eventually the fetus will develop brain activity. But someone who is brain-dead will never regain that activity.

  • As far as I know, rocks are not alive, but plants are. In other words, vegetarians “kill living things” to eat unless, of course, they only eat living things that are dead, but were not killed… The difference between vegans and vegetarians is that vegans don’t eat animal products. The difference between vegetarians and meat-eaters is that vegetarians don’t eat animals that have blood. (I’m pretty sure, insects don’t have blood.) Pescaterians will eat fish, but not mammals or birds, (I don’t think octopus, squid, or stingray are classified as fish.) Pescaterians and meat-eaters will eat young animals and animals raised under disturbing circumstance.
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Brain activity in living humans is not an on-off feature. For example, in a fetus there seems to be a gradual change from little and ‘low-level’ activity to stronger brain waves. The brain development process with increasingly complex brain waves seems to continue from small fetus (<45 days) to teenagers or even young adults. So, you have to define what amount of ‘low-level’ brain activity is enough to act as the threshold of brain dead vs. a living person. Should it be a straight line (zero) at all levels, including those processes that deal with basic body functions?

One research abstract dealing with the question below:
Dying brains

Another article dealing with fetal brain activity:
Fetal EEGs

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It depends on the plant I guess. You can eat many fruits and vegetables without killing the plant they are from. And with grains (as far as I know) the plant is already dead or dying. That is why it turns yellow.

But I think when potatoes are harvested, the plant is indeed killed. Although the plant would probably die during winter if it is not harvested.

Plants do not have a nervous system. And many insects probably also can’t feel pain. I once heard that some insects continue their task while they are actually being eaten by another creature.

The Bible’s prohibition of eating blood or animals that haven’t been bled out affirms the sancity of animal life (Acts 15).

Pigs are more intelligent than dogs. I can’t imagine how much they suffer emotionally, besides the physical pain.

My extended family has spoken about these issues, and we all know where each of us stands when it comes to these end of life decisions. I would strongly urge others to have those same discussions with the people who might be helping the doctor make those decisions. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Many of my Christian family members are strongly on the side of “pulling the plug” if they are brain dead. We have also been together at the bedside of grandparents that have been in hospice, so we have been through the experience of a loved one not fighting the inevitable and accepting death with grace. I think that brought a lot of clarity to many of us.

As to organ donation, as a non-Christian I would encourage doctors to keep me on life support if it meant someone could be saved with one of my organs. In a situation where I am declared brain dead, if they momentarily take me off life support and I immediately start to crash, then put me back on life support and get those organs to someone else who needs them. I don’t think I have discussed this specific nuance with my family, and will certainly put it on the agenda for the next time we discuss the topic.

At the same time, I can understand the ethical dilemma for Christians. I can’t think of any scriptures that directly deal with this topic, even tangentially.

  • One of the points that I was trying to make is that we human beings get really excited over life and death issues when we start to make distinctions and decisions about some things but not others,: what I would call: bio-ethical distinctions.and decisions.
  • To begin with, the object of our interest should exist, no?
  • Next,I think “a thing” needs to be alive.
    • Here, my fairly recent exposure to the Hindu concept of “Ahimsa” [i.e. ***non-violence***] inspired some of the questions that I asked and to which you are responding.
      • Ahimsa, wikipedia, tells me, “is the ancient Indian principle of nonviolence which applies to actions towards all living beings. It is a key virtue in Indian religions like Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.”
  • There are bio-ethical concerns surrounding things that were alive, but die, but for common people like me, the concerns change significantly, when the thing is not alive or dies. It’s hard to be violent to something that isn’t alive.
  • Snaking through “what is alive” and “what isn’t” is only the beginning.
  • I don’t argue there.
  • Seems to me that “sensitivity to pain” is the next big hurdle and source of contentious debate, when trying to decide when and whether to do violence.
  • When “sensitivity to pain” becomes the most important topic in a conversation, I would say that it’s time to move the conversation to a private thread and leave other topics in the public thread.
  • I am aware of the Biblical prohibition, but am unfamiliar with the concept of “sanctity of animal life.” I think a carnivorous human would have some difficulty eating a bloodless raw steak or bloody octopus. And as far as intelligence, I’m not sure but think octopi are among the most “intelligent” animals there are. Watch My Octopus Teacher if and when you can.

Yes. It’s freaky to observe.

I’m going to use this; my insurance is requiring one of those end-life directives before I turn 70.


I actually met a guy who creeped a number of people out with his diet approach: the only meat he ate came from “salvaged” meat, i.e. roadkill or partial carcasses left by predators.

Of course this only worked because he lived about thirty-five miles from the nearest village (which consisted of a combination store, gas station, and laundromat along with eight houses) and forty-five from the nearest town, so he salvaged three or four deer a year plus an occasional elk.

This was back before a law was enacted that required all roadkill to be reported to law enforcement to be tested for safety and then butchered and the meat delivered to food banks (or to the nearest jail if food banks couldn’t take it – I met a guy who was in jail for a month once who said they had salmon [recovered from poachers], elk, and bear steak).

I’ve been pretty darned violent to trees that storms knocked down across the mountain bike trails I used to ride and maintain during my university days. :grin:


Interesting. I myself am vegetarian, mostly vegan. So this concept sounds close to what I hold to.

Agreed. Although the way we treat dead animals should still be very respectful (humans are obvious). But I get your point and realise you also agree with this

That is just one of the things that needs to be taken into account. I never kill any bugs (except mosquitos, because of the diseases they transmit). And if I find a rain worm or snail on the street, I place it somewhere safe.

Humans are permitted (permitted, so not the optimal situation) to kill animals. But only if they give their blood back to God to show respect for the animal’s life. Then there is the contrast with taking human life, which cannot be accounted for in such a manner. (Genesis 9:1-6)

So that is what I meant with sanctity of animal life. I suppose a different term can also be used.

Steaks do not actually contain blood. The red liquid is water that contains myoglobin, muscle tissue. Octopi have an aorta, so I think it is technically possible to let them bleed out.

Yes, I heard a story about researchers who had an aquarium with octopi. During the night, they would climb out and go to the aquarium with fish to eat. When the researchers found out, they moved the fish downstairs. But then one day while one of the researchers was going upstairs, he saw an octopus crawling downstairs. :face_with_hand_over_mouth:


That is a very good point.

I don’t know to what extent it is legal for hospitals to check past behaviour of persons who need an organ. So allowing your organs to only go to children is a good way to make sure bad behaviour is not rewarded.

I wish they would but it seems that’s not possible. As far as checking I presumed it could be base off of just their medical expertise on what caused the damage.

When I checked online it seems that’s close to 80% of organ transplants goes to people 55+ with around 1/4 of that going to 65+. That organ size is a big factor. An adults organ potentially might not work for someone who’s really young. But that kids and teens have priority to the organs of other kids and teens. So it seems like only 20% goes to people under 55. They have many parameters like most pancreas transplants for people with diabetes is for those with type 1 which can’t be reversed or handled as easily through just diet unlike type 2.

With livers it seems type c hepatitis and alcohol liver disease makes up almost all transplants. The bulk of HC comes from blood contact through sharing needles. Drug abuse. It’s not that I think these people don’t deserve to live, my dad was a heavy drug user while I was growing up. For the last 20 years he’s mostly been a heavy pill abuser and for whatever reason, in the last 2-3 years he became an alcoholic. He was very functional. Still working 50+ hours a week, working on his vehicles, going to grandkids games and so on. But nonetheless was a lifelong addict and was maybe sober for like 3 years out of my whole life that I can recall. Spent plenty of times with us as kids. But always an addict until he overdosed right before this previous Xmas. So I don’t feel I have an issue with undervaluing addicts or anything.

But if I spend my whole life taking care of my body, then I die, and my organs are good, I want them to go to someone not like my dad. We worked with a guy named %% who had liver disease. He was 40. Dude had hepatitis from sharing a needle and drank a lot. Was dead seat on just ending it all. He ended up getting a liver transplant and was out of work for a while. Made drugs to sell to pay bills. Went around to churches and gave fake testimony and asked for donations. Use to brag about it. Got arrested for breaking into a vets office and stealing medication for animals. He got clean for like a year and was doing decent. Got a transplant, not few months goes by and he’s back to drugs and drinking. I don’t want my organs going to people like that.

And if it does, I want money for it. Sure I know I’m gone, but it can go to my family. Seems most major organ transplants are $400-800k. Just with that much money going around to help older people who seemed to have made a lot of bad choices as far as diet and drug use goes, and they want to dissect me up I want my family getting something out of it. If not, then i genuinely want to give it to the soil food web system. It’s why I want a natural green burial. No chemicals, cloth wrap and quickly decomposing cardboard coffin.


Mhmh yes.

That must have been a tough situation for you!

I think it is only natural to pity addicts (to what extent may differ from person to person, based on their experience). But yes, their actions have consequences.

My condolences. :frowning:

Of course!

Wow… I did a quick search. Apparantly here in the Netherlands a kidney transplant costs 80.000 euros. (And even more when a living donor is involved.)

Still a lot of money, but one year of dialysis costs the same. The (living) donor gets a compensation of around 350 euros, besides the covering of medical, travel and other expenses.

That is nothing but reasonable!

Maybe a procedure like “this person wants to donate his organs, but you have to give permission to share your medical record” can be implemented.

The EU has a very strict GDPR. But who knows what’s possible.

That depends on how fresh it is! Some fellow hunters one year sliced out steaks before draining the deer carcass . . . I passed, in response to which one of them said (in a Klingon-type voice) “A true warrior drinks the blood of his kill!” (supposedly a quote from a Star Trek episode, though I can’t find anything like it).

It recently became legal where I am to compost bodies; I’ve decided that’s what I want. According to one site they even have a process that breaks down the bones (though not the teeth). One system involves wrapping the body in a heavy hemp cloth with wood chips between body and cloth then placing it in a steel cylinder that has bark mulch and some soil, the latter two for jump-starting the decomposition I think.

I’ve thought ever since I was in high school that bodies should be returned to the soil, not locked away in vaults and boxes; I wrote a paper about a “memorial garden” where when someone died they would be composted and the compost used in an actual floral garden and a plaque would go on a wall or pillar to show that person’s remains were there among the flowers and trees.