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Buddhism and Organ Donation
Continuing our series on religion and organ donation, we present here a compilation of views on Buddhism and organ donation.
Buddhists believe organ donation is a personal decision and should be left to an individual’s conscience. There are no injunctions in Buddhism for or against organ donation. People may decide either which way, without one choice being seen as right, and the other wrong. However, because donation is a noble act, Buddhism honours those people who donate their bodies and organs to advance medical science and save lives. The importance of letting loved ones know their wishes is stressed. Many families will not give permission to donate unless they know their loved one wanted to be a donor.
Helping others is central to Buddhism along with the belief that charity forms an integral part of a spiritual way of life and high value is placed on acts of compassion. The death process of an individual is viewed as a very important time that should be treated with the greatest care and respect, and it should be disturbed only for special reasons and with appropriate care. The needs and wishes of the potential donor must not be compromised by the wish to save life. Each decision will depend on the feelings of those involved and the teachings of the different schools of Buddhism. Some Buddhists, including those who are followers of Tibetan Buddhism, believe the consciousness may stay in the body for some time after the breath has stopped. Until the consciousness leaves the body it is important the body remains undisturbed, so Tibetan Buddhists may have some concerns that an operation so soon after death may damage their consciousness and cause harm to their future lives. But others may decide this final act of generosity can only have positive ramifications.
There are examples in Buddhist scripture of the compassion shown by Buddha in giving his life and body to help others. The Sutra of Golden Light, chapter 18, shows how Buddha gave his body to save a starving tigress and her cubs, which were later reborn as his disciples.
Buddhism in Asia-Pacific region
Buddhism is predominant in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar. There is no shortage of tissue donors in these countries. In Korea and Singapore, although Buddhists comprise only one-third the population, they are by far the most active proponents of tissue donation.
“The attitude of Buddhism is in perfect agreement with tissue donation and in Buddhist scriptures there are stories where donation of tissues has been referred to as an act of charity, earning merits. Indeed Buddhists are expected to meditate about the impermanence of life. The body will decay just as a beautiful, fragrant flower withers and decays.” – Dr. F.G. HudsonSilva
Dr. F.G. Hudson Silva was the founder and president of the International Eye Bank, Tissue Bank & the Sri Lanka Eye Donation Society, and an Honorary Fellow of the College of Ophthalmology of Sri Lanka. He launched his campaign to collect corneas in 1958 when he was still a medical student and succeeded in persuading the majority Buddhist population of Sri Lanka that the donation of eyes after death was a meritorious act. As the campaign gathered momentum, thousands signed up to donate their eyes, the membership of the Eye Donation Society grew rapidly and branch societies sprung up throughout the country.
Since then, the Sri Lanka Eye Donation Society has gifted over 100,000 corneas to restore the sight of the blind in Sri Lanka and 62 other countries. The Human Tissue Act passed by the Sri Lanka parliament in 1987 enabled Dr. Hudson Silva to establish the Model Human Tissue Bank in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Now in addition to eyes, Sri Lanka also donates human tissues to the world.
- Shroff S, Navin S. Buddhism and Organ Donation. Indian Transplant Newsletter Vol. 8 Issue NO.: 26 (Feb-Jun 2008)
- Shroff S, Navin S. Buddhism and Organ Donation. Indian Transplant Newsletter Vol. 8 Issue NO.: 26 (Feb-Jun 2008). Available at:
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- Keywords: Religion, Buddhism, Organ donation