By FATHER KENNETH DOYLE
Question: At my death, I would like to donate my body to the local medical school for their continued research and training of students. Is this allowed in the Catholic Church? (Kailua, Hawaii)
Answer: Yes, it is allowed — but with certain cautions. The Catholic Church teaches that it is permissible and even laudable to donate one's body to scientific research after death. The intent is to enable others to live longer if any viable organs can be used — or to provide the material for research that might prevent disease in the future.
In October 2014, Pope Francis met with the Transplantation Committee for the Council of Europe and called the act of organ donation "a testimony of love for our neighbor." That same perspective is reflected in the U.S. Catholic bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services:
"Catholic health care institutions should encourage and provide the means whereby those who wish to do so may arrange for the donation of their organs and bodily tissue, for ethically legitimate purposes, so that they may be used for donation and research after death" (No. 63).
Medical students can learn from research on cadavers to become healers of other human bodies. One caution was expressed by St. John Paul II in a 1991 address to participants in a conference on organ transplants.
He said: "The body cannot be treated as a mere physical or biological entity, nor can its organs and tissues ever be used as items for sale or exchange."
Another caution is that, at the conclusion of their use for research, bodily remains should be treated with respect and properly entombed or buried.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.