Unfortunately, some Roman Catholics, such as community columnist Vivian Roe's mother, may conclude that Catholic teaching does not condone organ donation ("Ashes to ashes. . . or body to body?" June 6). Not so. On the contrary, each of us is encouraged to consider making such a donation out of love and in human solidarity.
We Catholics share with many other religious traditions our gratitude for the awesome medical advances in preserving threatened human life, in particular, through the procurement and implantation of donated human organs.
Today, we also grieve with them at the tragic loss on June 4 of the six who were on a mission to do just that - a team aptly described in the June 6 Journal Sentinel as "the crew that died trying to save a life."
We Catholics were challenged by Pope John Paul II to join in building a new culture of human life, with special concern for the weak and defenseless in our midst. The Wisconsin Donor Network tells us that nearly 80,000 Americans are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant and that each year more than 6,000 die because there are not enough donated organs. Aren't these among the weak the pope had in mind?
In his 1995 encyclical letter, "The Gospel of Life," the pope addressed us as "people of life and for life" and stressed strengthening our many relationships. He wrote: "The Gospel of life is to be celebrated in daily living, which should be filled with self-giving love for others . . . in the many different acts of selfless generosity."
Then he gave examples of such sharing, including the following: "Everyday heroism, made up of gestures of sharing, big or small, builds up a culture of life. A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope."
In the United States, the Anatomical Gift Act has been approved in each state, allowing a person to sign his or her driver's license to indicate the desire to donate organs after death. This is a response to communities' pressing needs for organs in the provision of health care, hence to the common good. Of course, the donor's consent must always be both free and informed.
The Wisconsin Donor Network also tells us that the demand for organs is far greater than the available supply, despite public support and the high rate of success of organ transplants. While medical science can now do so much for so many, it cannot create human organs. The generosity and vision of each of us is called into play, to offer a specific gift to a person in profound need and to help foster a culture that once again reveres all life.
Whatever misgivings we may have entertained - among others, that once one signs a donor card, he or she might receive less than adequate medical care in case of an accident; that a donor's family must cover the expenses; that the procedure will disfigure one's body; that only rich people will benefit from the donation - are carefully addressed and dispelled by the Donor Network in its publications and interviews.
Finally, as the catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity.
How could we more worthily honor those who perished in last week's crash? My driver's license clearly indicates above my signature: "Upon my death I wish to donate all organs, tissues or eyes." Does yours?
The Rev. Andrew L. Nelson is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and former rector at St. Francis de Sales Seminary. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
I thought we had the ability to put a "Donor" authorization on our Drivers License in Minnesota also. I thought I had it on mine but I don't see it know. I see mine expires on my next birthday, so I'll have to check that out then.