Christianity has the sacred text about not hiding a light under a bushel. But the basic idea is in pretty much every religion: You have a good idea, you have some obligation to let people know about it.
Which is why I'm puzzled about one particular good idea I've recently run across. Have you ever heard of the National Donor Sabbath? This year's commemoration of a weekend to encourage organ donation starts today. The official Web site explains:
"National Donor Sabbath is part of a donation initiative launched by the United States Department of Health and Human Services in 1997. Observed on Friday through Sunday two weekends before Thanksgiving, the three-day designation seeks to include the days of worship of major religions practiced in the United States."
And why is this a good idea? Back to that official Web site:
"More than 103,000 people were on the organ transplant waiting list as of September 2009 despite the fact that more than 14,000 donors made almost 28,000 transplants possible in 2008. Each year, thousands of Americans need corneal or other tissue transplants, and an average of 3,000 individuals at any given time are searching for an unrelated blood stem cell donor."
My attitude toward organ donation is simple: If any of my parts can help someone after I'm dead, have at it. I'll admit to not understanding why anybody would feel differently. After all, at that point, you will be beyond having any use for 'em.
But others are squeamish. Or have some concern about the afterlife. Or some other concern that makes little sense to me. So I figure it's got to be an uncontroversial Good Thing if anybody tries to enlist the religious institutions of the nation as a way to emphasize how organ donation is in accord with a particular faith's teachings. Assuming that it is, of course.
So why isn't National Donor Sabbath better known? And I would argue that it is not particularly well known. That one Reporter of Limited Knowledge hasn't heard of it means little. But that the top ethics guy for the nation's largest Protestant denomination had never heard of it means a bit more.
So what do various religious traditions have to say about the issue of organ donation? The tension, if there is one, is generally about the need to show proper respect for the body versus the potential good that a transplant might offer. Many religion traditions come down pretty firmly on the side of donation.
Pope John Paul II's famous encyclical Evangelium Vitae speaks directly about organ donation as a heroic act:
"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."
Though he notes in the same encyclical that there are ethical issues that need to be addressed:
"These could occur for example when, in order to increase the availability of organs for transplants, organs are removed without respecting objective and adequate criteria which verify the death of the donor."
Judaism doesn't have a single universally recognized interpretation about almost anything, but there's general agreement about organ donation. On the one hand there is the tradition followed by many of burying every bit of the body. On the other hand, almost every law in the Jewish canon is superseded by the saving of a life.
In 1990, for instance, the rabbis representing the Conservative tradition passed a resolution that "affirms the life-giving benefits of organ and tissue donation, and thereby encourages all Conservative Jews to become enrolled as organ and tissue donors by signing and carrying cards or driver's licenses attesting to their commitment of such organs and tissues upon their deaths to those in need."
Presbyterians and Lutherans have passed similar resolutions.
The United Methodist Church not only has a resolution but takes official notice of the National Donor Sabbath.
So what about the Southern Baptists? Dr. Richard Land is the head of that denomination's Ethics and Religion Liberty Commission. In 1988, the annual convention passed a resolution in support of ethically appropriate organ donation. But like me, Dr. Land was unfamiliar with the idea of a Sabbath officially dedicated to the idea.
"I'm not saying we'd be opposed to it," said Dr. Land, who has "organ donor" checked on his own driver's license. "But we haven't been aware of it."
The official Web site is short on coordination. It suggests contacting your local organ procurement organization or chapter of Donate Life America. Which is OK, I guess. But in these socially networked times, how hard would it be to toss up a way to register your church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or coven as signing on for the weekend?
So maybe you haven't heard of it before now. But that doesn't mean it's too late to take part in the Sabbath. Whether it's speaking up during an appropriate moment at your religious service or bringing up the concept over the doughnuts before or whitefish spread after.
So many moral issues these days are muddled gray blobs, more sparks for argument than topics for discussion – much less agreement. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to start a conversation wherever you pray where you know you'll be on the right side?
After all, the chances aren't bad that you might need one of those parts one day.
NATIONAL DONOR SABBATH IS NOVEMBER 13 - 15, 2009
Please register to be an organ, eye and tissue donor. To learn how click HERE