The Nasty Side of Organ Transplanting
Second Edition
                                               Norm Barber

                                 Chapter 16
Religion and Harvesting

A keen feature of transplant agency promotion material is the "dispelling the myths" section where they supposedly throw the light of truth on erroneous myths allegedly held by the ignorant, common people. One “myth buster” statement is that all major world religions support organ donation. Some web sites even list dozens of religions saying all except Gypsies and Shinto support organ transplantation.

Most religions do support the attitude of helping others via personal sacrifice and that may include organ donation.  But this view is often based on an ignorance of harvest processes. The hierarchical structures of many large religions I’ve contacted have yet to formulate their policy or provide clear guidance on this issue. Most put strict guidelines that donors should be dead and donation made voluntarily, both issues of which the organ harvest agencies gloss over and misrepresent.

When comparing the theology and recommended personal practices of major religions one observes they rarely complement what happens during harvest and transplant processes. A healthy, walking human letting harvesters remove a healthy kidney and insert it into the abdomen of a sick person appears the action of a saint and commendable by any religion.

But other facts should be added to the discussion. The previously healthy donated kidney will become sickly and probably fail within six or seven years and the patient want another.  Many recipients won’t experience a sparkling new health but will suffer a series of new illnesses from the anti-rejection drugs. Their desperation to improve the health level of their carnal lives, at any cost, appears not the sign of someone who believes in life after death, but rather someone who believes in nothing and is desperate to hang on to any sickly state, at any cost, rather than die.

Below are views of some religious groups whose opinions may differ from those attributed to them by organ harvest agencies.

Church of England in Australia

Dr Robert Claxton representing the Sydney Diocese Secretariat of the Anglican Church wrote me saying The Church supports organ transplantation with the Holy Scriptures being the final authority and that "All organ/tissue donation therefore must be carried out with due dignity and with full informed consent by the donor (expressed before death) and the family."56

This requirement of full informed consent contrasts with South Australian and other legislation around the world. Harvesting approval doesn’t always require donor consent and a bureaucrat can order it with just family consent. If they aren’t contactable within an undefined "reasonable period" a government bureaucrat can decide, without consent from donor or relatives, if there isn’t a reason to believe the deceased would have been against it. This would appear to conflict with Church of England policy as stated by Dr Claxton.

The reader can test public understanding of transplant procedures by discussing the issues of this book with prospective donors to discover if they are fully informed about the process.

Catholic Church

His Holiness Pope John Paul II said, in his address to the International Conference of the Transplantation Society, on 29 August 2000, that organ transplants which save lives are a good act but that the declaration of brain death must involve "the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem)" 57

Australian harvesting practice contravenes the Pope’s guidelines because it doesn’t require EEG testing to ensure the donor’s cerebral electrical activity has stopped. Australian practice approves harvesting regardless of brain electrical activity. Queensland Right to Life says,

"The Catholic Church and most other denominations do support organ donation from the bodies of those who have had complete and irreversible cessation of all brain function, which is the legal standard for brain death in Australia. However, most Australian units do not meet the legal standard. The Australian practice is to use the clinical criteria alone which means that in about 50% of Australian diagnoses of brain death some brain activity still occurs. This is much more liberal than standards in Europe which generally require ancillary testing to establish that all brain function has ceased. Thus the Australian practice is not approved by the Catholic Church."58

Pope John Paul II also said,

"…any procedure which tends to commercialise human organs or to consider them as items of exchange or trade must be considered morally unacceptable, because to use the body as an "object" is to violate the dignity of the human person"59

Kidneys and corneas aren’t sold in Australia or in most "developed" countries but governments are open about the benefits of these transplants. It is cheaper to transplant a kidney and supply drugs than provide long-term dialysis. It is cheaper to transplant a cornea than provide home care for a blind or semi-blind old person. It could be reasonably assumed that these transplants are not only acts of mercy but also performed for financial reasons.

            The Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Jehovah’s Witnesses haven’t provided a clear statement to me on their policy. The harvest agencies say the organisation allows individual Witnesses to make their own decision. Both harvesting and transplanting may involve transfusions of blood especially during the removal or fitting of livers. Transfusion is a taboo act in the Witness faith. There are occasions of bloodless transplant surgery using the recipient’s pre-stored blood and artificial blood, but the general reality is that transfusions would be required during both harvesting and transplanting, making this form of surgery taboo for Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

With harvesting the theological argument would be at what point death occurred in the donor and whether blood being transfused during harvesting is going into the person with a resident soul or just a corpse.

The Eastern Church (Greek Orthodox)

Even the donation agencies are wary of stating that the Greek Orthodox Church supports organ harvesting. Statistics show countries with large Greek Orthodox congregations have low harvest rates. Their resurrection doctrine, similar to Orthodox Judaism, states the body is resurrected as it is now. The interpretation may differ between a physical or a spiritual body, but the idea of being buried with parts of the body taken out or, other people’s parts inserted, is seen by some as spiritually unpleasant at best.

Dimitri Kepreotes, Secretary to Archbishop Stylianos of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, says that His Eminence is considering the matter and will consult expert medical opinion.


The Buddhist understanding is that life is a continuum. We are not separate entities and any feeling that we are is a delusion that can be removed through quiet meditation. Actions to increase personal wealth or dominance are ego-based and represent a crude understanding of reality. Allowing the body to be born and to die on its own is a natural process and should not be seen as a defeat or disaster, but merely a change of consciousness. Therefore, the somewhat harsh act of removing a donor’s vital organs, and using vast resources to fit these organs into another body, are an act of crude ego delusion and may represent a limited understanding of one’s spiritual identity.

Tibetan Buddhism

In the Tibetan Six Yogas of Naropa and Teachings on Mahamudra it is said the dying person experiences the different elements dissolve and the element of prana dissolve into the consciousness at the Heart Centre. Then the white Tig Le in the Head Centre will descend and the Red Tig Le in the Navel Centre rises and the two will join in the Heart. Every human will then see the Light of Death but most will fall back into the Bardo, or astral form, and prepare to be reincarnated.60

The above is a simplification of a complex series of psychological and spiritual changes that occur during the process of physical death. According to Buddhist teachings, even after the conscious mind and brain processes have slipped into inertia and apparent death, the spiritual process continues.  Buddhist scriptures say clarity of mind is crucial during the dying process as it determines the quality of one’s next incarnation. Practitioners of this path practice throughout their lives to clear their mind of delusion and retain this clarity while dying.

Therefore, it would be crucial for spiritual progress for the practitioner to experience a calm dying process free from injections including psychiatric drugs such as chlorpromazine that may be used in the harvesting process. Raising the blood pressure and the process of removing organs while the heart is still beating and pumping blood might dramatically and detrimentally cloud the process of the transformation that we call dying. This would be especially disturbing if an element of consciousness remained at the body during the preparation and harvest process. 


In Thailand, where being a Buddhist novice monk is a form of national service, a brain dead person is legally still alive.


In China, a nominally Buddhist culture, there is virtually no voluntary organ donation. The Chinese consider organ “donating” a form of punishment reserved for those found guilty in a court for murder, corruption or wrong political views. The government performs tissue matches and disease checks of prisoners. When a rich Chinese or foreign customer arrives with enough money or power the hospital agent shoots the prisoner to produce a condition close to brain death.  The “donor” is shot in the head when the heart or torso organs are required and in the heart area when eyes are being purchased. Kidneys were removed from one prisoner after, rather than before, harvesting.

The idea of being a voluntary donor in China is a bit like being a voluntary prisoner. Quite unpopular.61

Shinto (Japanese)

Shinto has a direct religious doctrine against organ harvesting and transplanting.62  It is considered spiritually dirty and foul. In 2000 there were six brain dead donors in Japan compared to 196 in Australia, which has one-seventh the population.63

Despite having huge numbers of dialysis patients, harvesting from brain dead and cardiac dead donors is almost non-existent in Japan. Japan has advanced medical technology and allows the unusual practice of removing kidneys, upon family consent, from cardiac dead donors who hadn’t signed donor cards. In other countries these kidneys are considered unusable. Despite this relatively benign form of removing this organ Japan had only eighty cardiac dead kidney donors in the year 2000.


Gypsies include a range of peoples originally from India who have lived for centuries in the Balkans. They are a puritanical, travelling people who range though Europe, North America and Australia. "Gypsies have direct religious doctrine against organ donation" 64

Church of Scientology

Janine Werneburg, speaking for the Church, says that founder, L. Ron Hubbard, states in the books, "Dianetics" and "Clear Body, Clear Mind", that the unconscious mind observes and records everything. Therefore, Janine says, the human subconscious may be experiencing the evisceration process despite severe brain injury or "brain death". Upon real death the spirit would carry that terror and when reincarnated this would cloud that incarnation until cleansed. The Church allows members to make their own choice.65


The great Swami Yogananda, of the Self-Realisation Fellowship, certainly experienced the problems other people have in ascertaining brain and physical death. He went to the United States of America to spread his spiritual teachings and practices. At the height of his success in the early 1950’s he went into a sublime Samadhi where his body entered the traditional suspended animation. All functions stopped yet his body stayed fresh because samadhi transcends the process of life and death. His American followers, not understanding samadhi and, behaving a little like overzealous harvesters, thought he was dead and threw his body into a cremation fire. You can imagine the dismay his more knowledgeable followers experienced when they returned to discover what had happened. Fifty years later these older followers still can’t talk about it.

Esoteric Hindu practices bring about a range of varied states of being that aren’t understood or respected by non-practitioners. The idea that death can be determined by the simplistic testing of reflexes and bodily functions is seen as crude and childish. The thought that death is determined by non-practitioners, who work in the same rooms as those that seek one’s organs, is anathema to most Hindus.


Islam says body parts shouldn’t be stored which precludes eyes, perhaps kidneys, bones, skin, tendons, fascia, and body hormones from being harvesting. This will depend on their definitions of “storage”.


Brain stem death is not recognised by orthodox Jews as death of the individual because they believe the heart is the centre of the soul. The heart must stop permanently for death to have occurred. Burial must be as whole as possible and parts of the body removed due to disease or accidents must be properly saved and buried to Jewish Law when the person dies. Blood donations aren’t allowed in Orthodox Jewry. During the wars with the Arabs some Jewish soldiers wouldn’t donate blood as this went against their beliefs.


The Hmongs of Laos and the highlands of Vietnam believe one of a person’s three spirits stays with the body. Therefore, it needs to be whole and treated with appropriate respect and rites during the dying process.

Zombie Cult

The Zombie Cult strongholds are in Haiti and West Africa, but indigenous peoples throughout the world are conscious of spirits within and without the human body. The Zombie Cult has two arms, one scientific and one occult. Both involve Bogons, a type of witchdoctor who specialises in magic spells and spirits. The power of Bogons is believed and experienced by many peoples.  In Australia the Pitjantjatjara people of the inland have Nungharis who cleanse the souls of patients in the “dream state”. Aboriginals also have the feared Feather Men.

Scientific Bogons (Zombie)

The Haitian scientific Bogon is employed by someone who wants zombie slave workers or to rob an enemy of their “soul”. The Bogon secretly administers naturally occurring poisons into the intended victim that create the appearance of death. The Haitian funeral is frequently hurried and the victim buried in a coffin. Later, the Bogon digs up and revives the victim to a semi-conscious state. The victim suffers injury from the poison and doesn’t remember who he or she is. The apparent death state required little oxygen, but the victim might still have suffered brain damage in the oxygen deficient confines of a buried coffin.
The semi-zombie slave is delivered to the purchaser who adds controlled amounts of poison into the prisoner’s food to maintain the zombie state. Zombies may spend the rest of their lives in this semi-conscious state. Occasionally a zombie has regained partial consciousness and escaped though even then may never regain a sense of self.

Occult Bogons

Many Africans around the world believe the occult Bogon uses subtle secret spells to steal the spirit.  An enemy may hire a Bogon to attack the intended victim. In Africa the victim loses a sense of self and awareness, becomes weak and falls prey to the dangers we all face. These include disease, physical attack, family estrangement, mental illness, drugs, suicide, financial ruin, etc. Fear of Bogons is still strong in parts of Africa and Haiti especially in the former where bodies are frequently found with parts missing. Some say it is organ robbers while others say it is Voo Doo bogons stealing their victims’ spirits that they believe reside in certain organs.

When Western doctors and transplant coordinators pressure African-Americans to consent to the harvesting of vital organs from the breathing, pulsing, warm and soft bodies of their relatives, well, it echoes back to the sound of a threatening Bogon chant.