By FATHER KENNETH DOYLE
Editor’s note: This column is being repeated by Catholic News Service. Father Doyle is now retired.
Q. I would like to donate my remains to medical science. Does the Catholic Church approve or disapprove of this action? (Chesapeake, Virginia)
A. The Catholic Church not only allows this but encourages it. Your donation could enable doctors, nurses and medical researchers to understand the human body better and save lives in the future.
The U.S. Catholic bishops in their policy document Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services state that Catholic health care facilities should provide the means for those who wish to donate organs and bodily tissue both for transplant and for research (No. 63). Likewise, St. John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical "The Gospel of Life" called organ donation an act of "everyday heroism" that nurtures a genuine culture of life (No. 86).
A couple of cautions are in place, though. First, a Catholic funeral Mass may and should still be held, even without the presence of the body (i.e., a memorial Mass), to entrust the deceased person to the Lord and to allow the family to mourn and pray together.
Next, following the medical research, any bodily remains should be entombed or buried in consecrated ground. And finally, it is wise for someone intending to donate his or her body to communicate that desire to family members well in advance to avoid surprise or family friction at the time of death.