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Most Religions Support Organ Donation

Most religious communities encourage their members to become organ and tissue donors as a way to help others.

As of Jan. 16, there were 2,090 people from the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan area on an organ transplant waiting list. On Dec. 7, 2001, that total was 79,220 people.

However, only about 50 percent of eligible organ donors choose to do so.

Statistics from the Washington Regional Transplant Consortium show there were 73,951 people on transplant waiting lists in 2000, and 5,984 people who were donors. That year, 5,508 people died waiting for a transplant.

One of the reasons there are so few organ and tissue donors is religious concerns.

While there are a few religions, such as Gypsies and Shinto, that believe the body is sacred and must stay intact, many world religions do not have an official policy on organ and tissue donation and leave the decision up to the individual. Even more actually see donation as an obligation to help fellow human beings.

"We are pro-organ donation," said the Rev. Blaine Bluebaugh of the Graham United Methodist Church in Falls Church. "It's a major thing for us. It's one of our official days in the calendar. We just believe in it. God has given us the ability to do this, and we should share."

<mh>Preserving Life

<bt>The United Methodists, as with several religions, believe that organ and tissue donation is an act of charity and that preserving life takes precedence over any beliefs that govern the treatment of the dead.

"Judaism says the body is sacrosanct and you're not suppose to deface it. Once a body dies, it's suppose to be treated with respect and buried right a way. It's suppose to be buried with all its body parts," said Rabbi Rosalind Gold of the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation (Reform) in Reston. "Some people believe that because of that way of thinking, they can't donate organs or tissues. But the commandment to save life supersedes that commandment about death."

In fact, all four movements in Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist — have embraced organ and tissue donation.

"My movement, the Conservative Movement, has declared it to be a positive obligation where donation is possible," said Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation of Northern Virginia in Alexandria. "Whereas in Judaism there is a respect for a deceased body that says there shouldn't be a corruption of the body, such as an autopsy or for research. Organ transplantation is in the category of saving a life and in some circumstances is a mandate."

<mh>Getting the Word Out

<bt>This past November, the Division of Transplantation, Department of Health and Human Services designated a weekend as "National Donor Sabbath Weekend" to promote the various religious communities' support of donation.

In many cases, the religious communities have already taken it upon themselves to get the word out.

Bluebaugh said it is common practice for him to work the topic of organ donation into his sermons. The congregation also has transplant recipients share their stories and hands out educational literature to its members along with information on how to sign up to be a donor.

"I've given a sermon on donation on one of the High Holy Days with everybody here. Periodically, we put out flyers," Gold said. "There's not a Jewish resistance to donation, it's more on an emotional level."

For more information on organ and tissue donation, contact the Washington Regional Transplant Consortium at 703-641-0100 or www.wrtc.org.