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The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 21, Issue 2, Summer 2021

Paul Riffon
Pages 263-279

Protecting Autonomy and Dignity in Organ Donation Postmortem through Family Decision Making

Often-cited papal pronouncements regarding organ donation emphasize the importance of gift giving and the consent of the donor. However, a critical reading reveals an ill-defined separation of living organ donation and donation after death. Given that a corpse cannot engage in gift giving, nor can it give consent, the family, acting as good stewards, is the proper decision maker for organ donation after death. A historical examination of relics and human anatomical dissection reveals that the Catholic Church has primarily favored the decisional authority of the family over the first-person consent of the dead. Given this history, family-based consent (as opposed to opt-in or opt-out criteria) is the best model to ensure the dignity of the dead.

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