April 18, 2008


Celebrating the gift of life—after a loved one’s death

“Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good that is sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons”

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2296)

We have all been or will be touched by death in one way or another in our lifetime.

Young, old. Rich, poor. Black, white. Death is no stranger to any community or walk of life in this world we live in.

And don’t let anyone tell you any different: Losing a family member or friend, by any circumstance, is never an easy thing.

While death can be seen as a time to both mourn and celebrate those we have lost, it can also result in an unexpected gift for others.

Let me explain.

Nearly every day, we hear stories of tragic, untimely deaths: People killed in drive-by shootings, individuals perishing in car wrecks and innocent bystanders who die as a result of a crime gone bad, among other things.

While family members and friends mourn losing their loved ones and appropriately try comprehending why this happened, it can also lead to the gift of life for others.

For the past five years, the month of April has been designated as “National Donate Life Month.” Every day this month, people across the United States make a special effort to celebrate the tremendous generosity of those who have saved lives by becoming organ, tissue, marrow and blood donors. They also encourage more Americans to follow their example.

What organs and tissues can be donated? The heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissue that can give the gift of life to others includes cornea, skin, heart valves, bone blood vessels and connective tissue. Also, bone marrow/stem cells, umbilical cord blood and peripheral blood stem cells are among the donations needed.

The statistics concerning donors may surprise you. According to the government Web site organdonor.gov, more than 98,000 people are in need of an organ for transplant. Each day, while about 77 people receive the organ transplant that gives them a second chance at life, another 17 to 19 people die because they did not receive an organ transplant.

The number of patients now on the waiting list and other data are available at Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, whose Web site is www.optn.org. The number of people requiring a life-saving transplant continues to rise faster than the number of available donors. Approximately 300 new transplant candidates are added to the waiting list each month.

More than half the people on the waiting list for a donated organ are racial or ethnic minorities. The chances of getting a transplant increase if the donor and recipient share the same racial/ethnic background, health officials say.

There are several ways to become a donor: In Indiana, you can say “yes” to donation on your driver’s license; register with your state donor registry (if available); tell your family, friends, physician or your parish priest that you want to be a donor; or fill out and sign a donor card, have it witnessed by someone, and carry the card with you.

Thinking about our own mortality is no easy thing. But in leaving this world, we can potentially give the gift of life to others.

Think and pray about it. Can you or a loved one sign up to be a donor? The decision you make could save a life—or lives.

In today’s “me-first” society, what a powerful statement that would indeed be.

—Mike Krokos

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