A different Easter gift ?

The central message of Easter is that when someone dies the person we have known and loved enters into a new and closer relationship in God’s presence, where their previous physical body is no longer required. We treat the body of that person with respect and arrange for appropriate burial or cremation with or without a religious ceremony, and often find it hard to ‘let go’ because the physical body has been how we have known and loved that person in life. This is especially so in the case of sudden or traumatic death. We know in our heads that the person has died and no longer needs or inhabits their body. Emotionally, whatever our beliefs, we may be unable to acknowledge this fact for some time, even though we are arranging the funeral.

It is against this background that relatives may be approached by hospital staff to enquire if they object to any of the dead person’s organs being donated to give someone else the chance to live. Many people carry a donor card or have registered their willingness to donate but it is common for relatives to refuse for that donation to take place. There are about 6500 people awaiting a transplant and three people a day die in need of a transplant because of a shortage of donated organs, or because relatives object to the donation. For the Christian there is no religious reason for refusing as the person who has died no longer needs that body and is not affected by anything that happens to it. However, emotionally the family may find this hard to acknowledge.

As a former hospital chaplain families would sometimes say to me they “did not want him/her cut anymore” or “She’s already been through so much”. If someone during their life has already thought this through, and wishes to make a generous gift to another person in need, the family refusal is especially sad. During our life we find it hard to contemplate our mortality, let alone about it with our families. However, until we do so and are able to ensure the cooperation of our family to follow through our wishes and allow the gift to be made, many thousands of people will continue to live an impaired life or die in need of a transplant.

As Christians, and in this Easter season, do we have the courage to face the reality of death and the implications of Christ’s promise of eternal life? Can we, albeit tearfully, overcome our emotional response, allow the generous gift to happen, and help others in need?

Prebendary Dr Peter Speck