Pope Francis described the act of organ donation as ‘a testimony of love for our neighbour’ when he met with the Transplantation Committee for the Council of Europe (CD-P-TO) who gathered in Rome on Thursday. The Pontiff’s comments came on the same day as the Catholic Church in England and Wales agreed to join the fleshandblood campaign as a national associate.
The fleshandblood campaign is the first national partnership of its kind between the NHS and UK Churches, aiming to encourage church congregations to see blood and organ donation as a part of their community participation.
The Most Rev Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, said: “The Catholic Church is clear that, in itself it is a good and meritorious thing freely to donate our organs after we are dead. Even while we are alive, actions such as giving blood can be a powerful expression of human solidarity and of Christian charity. Such actions can help build a culture of life, a culture in which life is cherished. For this reason I welcome initiatives such as fleshandblood which encourages people to think of serving others in this way, as a form of Christian charity.”
Some of the highest rates of organ donation in the world occur in European countries with a strong Catholic heritage and Catholicism is often positively associated with rates of donation.
The Vatican plays host to European Organ Donation Day (EODD) today with news of The Pope’s comments being welcomed by those involved. Marta Lopez Fraga, the Secretary of the European Committee on Organ Donation said: “The Pope is a charismatic figure and it is very important that he has given a clear and strong message in favour of donation to all the different religious communities.”
Following the meeting in Rome, the CD-P-TO reported that it was also the first instance of a Pope expressing a scientific point of view with regard to organ donation and specifically the determination of brain death.
In London, Archbishop Smith drew attention to the publication of a major new report of the ethics of organ donation. The report is the work of an international group of clinicians, philosophers, and theologians, convened by the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford and published earlier this month. The report aims to ‘set out the ethical requirements which must be met if transplant medicine is to achieve its true end, and merit the support of Catholics and, more generally, of men and women of good will.’
The fleshandblood campaign has already received widespread support from churches, community groups and from government ministers.
More than 20 million people across the UK have now made the decision to donate their organs after death by signing up to the NHS Organ Donor Register, although the organisers point out it is also important to make this decision known to their loved ones.
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