Questions From Readers
● Is there any Scriptural objection to donating one’s body for use in medical research or to accepting organs for transplant from such a source?—W. L., U.S.A.
A number of issues are involved in this matter, including the propriety of organ transplants and autopsies. Quite often human emotion is the only factor considered when individuals decide these matters. It would be good, though, for Christians to consider the Scriptural principles that apply, and then make decisions in harmony with these principles so as to be pleasing to Jehovah.—Acts 24:16.
First, it would be well to have in mind that organ transplant operations, such as are now being performed in an attempt to repair the body or extend a life-span, were not the custom thousands of years ago, so we cannot expect to find legislation in the Bible on transplanting human organs. Yet, this does not mean that we have no indication of God’s view of such matters.
When Jehovah for the first time allowed humans to eat animal flesh, he explained matters this way to Noah: “A fear of you and a terror of you will continue upon every living creature of the earth and upon every flying creature of the heavens, upon everything that goes moving on the ground, and upon all the fishes of the sea. Into your hand they are now given. Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to you. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.” (Gen. 9:2-4) That allowance was made to Noah, from whom every person now alive descended. Hence, it applies to all of us.
Humans were allowed by God to eat animal flesh and to sustain their human lives by taking the lives of animals, though they were not permitted to eat blood. Did this include eating human flesh, sustaining one’s life by means of the body or part of the body of another human, alive or dead? No! That would be cannibalism, a practice abhorrent to all civilized people. Jehovah clearly made a distinction between the lives of animals and the lives of humans, mankind being created in God’s image, with his qualities. (Gen. 1:27) This distinction is evident in His next words. God proceeded to show that man’s life is sacred and is not to be taken at will, as may be done with the animals to be used for food. To show disrespect for the sanctity of human life would make one liable to have his own life taken.—Gen. 9:5, 6.
When there is a diseased or defective organ, the usual way health is restored is by taking in nutrients. The body uses the food eaten to repair or heal the organ, gradually replacing the cells. When men of science conclude that this normal process will no longer work and they suggest removing the organ and replacing it directly with an organ from another human, this is simply a shortcut. Those who submit to such operations are thus living off the flesh of another human. That is cannibalistic. However, in allowing man to eat animal flesh Jehovah God did not grant permission for humans to try to perpetuate their lives by cannibalistically taking into their bodies human flesh, whether chewed or in the form of whole organs or body parts taken from others.
It is of interest to note that in its discussion of cannibalism the Encyclopœdia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, Volume 3, page 199, has a section designated “Medical cannibalism.” It points out that this is associated with the idea of obtaining strength or some medical virtue from the flesh of another human, adding: “The most remarkable example of this practice occurs in China. Among the poor it is not uncommon for a member of the family to cut a piece of flesh from arm or leg, which is cooked and then given to a sick relative. . . . The whole superstition in China is certainly connected with the idea that the eating of the human body strengthens the eater. . . . Among savages the practice is found of giving a sick man some blood to drink drawn from the veins of a relative.” Some might argue that therapeutic practices involved in modern organ transplant operations are more scientific than such primitive treatment. Nonetheless, it is evident that men practicing medicine have not been beyond using treatments that amount to cannibalism if such have been thought justified.
Modern science has developed many different types of operations that involve human body parts, some common and usually successful and others experimental and often unsuccessful. It is not our place to decide whether such operations are advisable or warranted from a scientific or medical standpoint. It would be well, though, for Christians faced with a decision in this regard to consider the indication as to God’s viewpoint presented in the Scriptures.—Eph. 5:10.
At present scientific researchers are starting to use artificial or animal parts where formerly human parts were thought necessary, such as in the case of cornea transplants. (See, for instance, Science News for May 21, 1966, page 396, and Time for April 28, 1967, pages 68 and 70.) Whether wider use of such operations will be made, we do not know. Nor can we decide whether a Christian should accept some animal part as a transplant; that is for personal decision. (Gal. 6:5) However, we can be sure that in the future the time will come when all human medical operations will be unnecessary. (Rev. 21:4) Christians have strong evidence that the new order is near at hand when Jehovah the Great Physician will, through Jesus, do healing beyond the limitations of medical science of today.—Mark 8:22-25; John 11:43, 44; Acts 3:6, 7; Matt. 12:15.
What should be done, though, when a Christian is asked to provide an organ for use in another person or to allow the body part of a deceased loved one to be so used? We might ask, If a Christian decided personally that he would not sustain his own life with the flesh of another imperfect human, could he conscientiously allow part of his flesh to be used in that way to sustain someone else?
Even from a medical standpoint there is some question as to the wisdom and ethicalness of some transplants. One physician discussed this publicly in the Annals of Internal Medicine, citing the results of 244 kidney-transplant operations. In the majority of cases the recipient did not live more than a year after the operation. Then, commenting on the dangers for the volunteer who donates one of his kidneys, the doctor asked: “Is it right to subject a healthy person . . . to the possibility . . . of shortening his life by 25 or 30 years in order to extend another’s life by 25 or 30 months or less?” Reporting on this, Newsweek, of March 2, 1964, page 74, added that the doctor “offers no conclusive answer, but he suggests that the question needs to be asked more often.”
When it comes to deciding what to do with one’s own body or with the body of a deceased loved one, for which a Christian is responsible, the apostle Paul’s words at Romans 12:1 should not be overlooked: “I entreat you by the compassions of God, brothers, to present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason.” Baptized Christians have dedicated their lives, bodies included, to do the will of Jehovah their Creator. In view of this, can such a person donate his body or part of it for unrestricted use by doctors or others? Does a human have a God-given right to dedicate his body organs to scientific experimentation? Is it proper for him to allow such to be done with the body of a loved one? These are questions worthy of serious consideration.
Not to be overlooked is the use to which a dead body might be put. Would a Christian who, while living, refused to give his blood to be used as a transfusion for some other person, allow his body to be turned over to a group or to a person and possibly at that time have the blood removed and used for transfusion, as has been done with some cadavers? (See, for example, Awake! of October 22, 1962, page 30.) A person might feel that he could stipulate that his body not be used in that way; but if many persons in authority refuse to abide by a Christian’s wishes about blood when he is alive, what reason is there to believe they will show more respect for his wishes after his death? Would they use his organs in cannibalistic medical experiments?
Our bodies are the creation of Jehovah God. (Ps. 100:3; 95:6; Job 10:8) Christians might allow apparently necessary surgery to be performed, such as to remove a diseased limb, but they do not needlessly mutilate their bodies created by Jehovah. Would allowing a body to be mutilated after death be showing respect for and appreciation of God’s creation? True, in some instances there may be legal requirements that Christians abide by, such as when the law requires a postmortem examination to determine the cause of death. (Rom. 13:1, 7; Mark 12:17) In such cases the next of kin can usually request that the organs not be removed for transplant or reuse. In this way, even though an autopsy might be required, the Christian can prevent misuse of the body of a loved one. But when such laws do not apply, the Christian can decide in such a way as to avoid unnecessary mutilation and any possible misuse of the body. Thus he will be able to have a clear conscience before God.—1 Pet. 3:16.
It should be evident from this discussion that Christians who have been enlightened by God’s Word do not need to make these decisions simply on the basis of personal whim or emotion. They can consider the divine principles recorded in the Scriptures and use these in making personal decisions as they look to God for direction, trusting him and putting their confidence in the future that he has in store for those who love him.—Prov. 3:5, 6; Ps. 119:105.
● How could Asahel be listed as a divisional commander in David’s army (1 Chron. 27:7) when, according to 2 Samuel 2:23, Asahel was killed even before David became king over all Israel?—R. F., U.S.A.
At 1 Chronicles 27:7 Asahel is listed as a divisional commander of the month-by-month arrangement of troops: “The fourth for the fourth month was Asahel, Joab’s brother, and Zebadiah his son after him, and in his division there were twenty-four thousand.” The text at 2 Samuel 2:23 shows that following the test struggle at the pool of Gibeon and the subsequent rout of the Israelite forces under Abner, Asahel doggedly pursued the fleeing Abner and was finally killed by Abner when he refused to desist from the pursuit. (2 Sam. 2:12-28) Since Asahel died before David’s becoming king over all Israel, his mention here is believed by some commentators to prove that the arrangement here mentioned was to some extent made before all the tribes came to David in Hebron to acknowledge him as King. In this regard The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 1, page 244) says: “It is possible that we may have here the prototype of the Davidic militia organized earlier in the Judean rule of the king, and that his original list has been brought up to date by the inclusion of Zebadiah, son and successor of Asahel in his command.”—Compare 1 Chronicles chapter 12.
Another suggestion arises out of the fact that at 1 Chronicles 27:7, the fourth division’s commander is said to be not only Asahel but “Zebadiah his son after him.” This position of commander for a month was a privilege held by a distinguished veteran, and in some cases such honor may have been posthumous. Hence, the name “Asahel” here may have reference to his house, represented in his son Zebadiah, who is referred to as Asahel’s successor.