Organ donations and veganism


Mar 1, 2016
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  1. Vegan
Recently I've read two novel which both addressed the issue of live and dead organ donations. It was treated in a very respecting way and I found myself thinking about the question from another point of view. Now it seems pointless to talk about the novels, but it seems interesting to me to address the question of organ donations.

To read up on how organ donations work (dead donor):

I then started to think about the question of whether or not become a donor according to the vegan lifestyle, mostly because my parents were strongly against it, and I listed the following points:
1) You are butchered while your organs haven't yet started to decay.
2) There is blood everywhere.
3) They put ice around the organs before cutting them out.
4) The body is "restored" with cotton balls put into the corpse.
5) You cannot have an influence whatsoever on the receiver.
6) You're only a number in the system, not a person.
7) It's not really a donation, it's more of a rapt, since you cannot be asked when it really comes to it.
Obviously, if I think about it, there are many more.

I mean without going into details whether brain-death = death, I would really like to have the opinion of vegan people on this tricky question. I haven't had the time yet to read up on the question, but I doubt any vegan "founders" have really written anything about this question.

So what is your opinion concerning organ donation ?
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This is not a clear cut issue. Veganism and health is generally a case-by-case thing, particularly over the matter of more severe interventions.

Firstly, the fact the veganism generally improves the health this is one reason to keep away from the men in white coats :p but then there is the fact that vegans tend to be more aware of natural methods of healing, if they do have minor ailments.

Secondly, a GP can be made aware of one's veganism when prescribing medications. Often there are options that are not gelatinous or containing lactose as a stabiliser. But then there is also the issue that almost all medications are, at some point, tested on animals and other humans - though at least humans can give their consent.

As to the rest, I think it is generally accepted in the vegan community that there is no standard approach - that people have different opinions. Indeed the UK Vegan Society backs this stance (choose for yourselves, but be educated is basically what they say - I'm bastardising it though). For instance, I weigh the benefits of non-vegan medicine on a case by case issue. I do take my inoculations regardless of the fact that they are cultured in egg or pig cells - other vegans might not. I take them because we live in a world of violent strains of 'super viruses' and a huge issue with increasing urbanisation and immuno-contamination from the level of globalisation we now experience. For instance I was born with tuberculosis because my mother contracted it when she was pregnant and I almost did not survive (it came down to the wire) - tuberculosis can easily be avoided with a vaccination and so I would prefer to take that, and would have preferred she'd taken it too so that my first few months on this earth didn't need to have been such a battle. On the other hand if I've just got an earache and the option is a non-vegan one, then I would turn it down and suffer the ache!

Personally I am not a registered donor but this has got nothing to do with the fact that I am vegan, it's more that I don't feel like there is a divide between the spirit and the body. I would like to remain spiritually 'intact' upon my death, therefore I would not like to scatter my organs. So it's a personal belief issue, not a vegan one.

I would rather have thought that the greyer area would be accepting donated organs/blood/tissues, not giving them. Many would say that the option of having those organs, sustaining life, considering the lives of our fellow man, is a very vegan concept. These donations are generally consensual or authorised by next-of-kin so I don't think they can be considered 'exploitation'. Whereas the vegan recipient may or may not want to receive these. For instance, I would certainly hesitate to accept blood knowing it most likely did not come from a fellow vegan however I'd have no issue accepting blood from a known vegan human being. This is because receiving blood from an omnivore rather feels like second hand smoking, to me, however this is my totally subjective opinion.

I have always thought that the greater issue is with certain governments that believe that the ownership of one's body after death largely falls back to the state. I.e. I would like to be able to refuse an autopsy or an exhumation, but there are no legal grounds to do so in the UK. I take great ethical issue with this - as morbid a thought as it is I think it is a real issue. It's an omnivorous mindset, really. It's dead therefore we can do what we like. State-authorised autopsies or exhumations that go against the wish of the deceased is thoroughly 'un-vegan'.

But, to conclude, if you give your consent to any of these procedure - donation, autopsy, exhumation - then I do believe it's in keeping with veganism. After all we are concerned about animals because they can rarely convey their consent and, if they could, would certainly not say 'yes please do slaughter and eat me'. Whether or not a donor's body is 'butchered', ice-packed, or gone through any of the things you list it's not antithetical if it's their wish in order to serve medicine or save another life. That argument is a completely subjective one and you'd have to be fairly militant to say otherwise - which I respect but also caution against.

No, you cannot influence who the receiver is. But, again, you can knowingly consent to this. I don't think there's anything wrong with a vegan saving a non-vegan's life at all! It's probably what we are all doing every day just by keeping to a plant based diet - all that forestry, water, oxygen we are saving is also saving the lives of non-vegans. Vegan soldiers are more literally protecting the lives of a non-vegan majority. And as much as the poor practices of the meat and dairy industries can make us apathetic about our fellow man, I think it's important to be optimistic and protect the potential for man to willingly, consciously, evolve and self-regulate. Yes, it's a blind donation, but so is Christmas Shoeboxing. You know roughly your donation will go to someone who is needy, but you can't stipulate who or where. Does that mean you won't donate your shoebox? Does it mean you won't pay your taxes because you don't know which social project it will be put towards? OK, we have to pay our taxes so maybe that's not the closest analogy but I hope it still serves in a lesser way.

You're 'only' a number in the system whether you're living as well. We all have passport numbers, mobile phone numbers, bank account numbers, driving license numbers, national insurance numbers... even as we are living we are defined by a series of numbers so I cannot think why this would bother a person more dead than it does when they are alive. If you are interested in this 'issue', you can read about being a Freeman on the Land - which is a growing movement however still an unofficial one (i.e. not recognised by the state - maybe that's the point but it's rather considered as being 'pseudolegal'). But, even dead, you're probably going to be a person to somebody. Someone's sister/brother/mother/father or even as an animal's carer. Lord knows I've seen animals grieve for their owners. Few people truly leave this world as simply a 'number'.

In short, organ donation doesn't really come into veganism (in my opinion). The point is it's consensual.

Receiving these donations is left to the individual to decide. Vegan bodies such as the Vegan Society UK do not presume to stipulate about this - human to human donations are consensual. Veganism is concerned with life. We won't tell you not to receive a donation if your life is at stake, but we will respect your wish regardless because we generally respect the autonomy of all living beings human or not.

A really interesting question!
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Sorry for not having replied earlier on, I am really busy moving at the moment...

Winter Frost, your very interesting reply addresses two points: first, the case of a vegan receiving organs; secondly the case of a vegan giving organs.

In both cases there is no definite answer, as you rightly pointed out. From my experience many doctors, even specialized ones, do not always find a cure to a medical problem. I have had hormonal acne for over ten years now and it was only considered as such since last year. The many other treatments I had, whether they were natural or not, only made the issue more persistent and resistant to any given medicine. Thus, my faith in traditional medicine is very low, but I am sure certain serious sicknesses, like tuberculosis in your case, or hormonal acne in my case, should not be treated with too much second-feelings about veganism. It will sound harsh to say this, but there are certain things you cannot cure in a natural and vegan way.

Now back to the organ donation issue ;) First to the case of a vegan receiving organs, from its family or an anonymous donor. It has to be noted that until you are receiving an organ, you must suffer from a very serious disease, leading you to consider an organ "reception" after several years of treatment. Obviously, in case of a kidney, for example, it can be "received" by a living donor, usually a member of the family. In case of some more important organs transplant, the donor is then a dead donor and s/he remains anonymous. Naturally, in both cases the "reception" of the organs has to be consented by the person or his next-of-kin.
I think it is less problematic when it comes to blood, because blood regenerates itself within a couple of weeks. It has a lesser impact on one's life than receiving an organ from a carnist. In my case, I cannot give blood (my veins are too small) and I have never was in the case I desperately needed some.

In the case of organ donation, the donor being brain-dead, I still find it more problematic than in the case of receiving some. The organs have not yet "died" and would certainly do so, if not maintained in a "living" position, thanks to many machines. Despite the given consent of the person, the family or the state - I know that in France for example, they generally assume the person did give her consent, whereas in Switzerland the opposite is assumed - I hold my position that organ donation is some kind of exploitation. Let me explain this: A human body is exploited to the bone (literally) to serve the general purpose of traditional medicine or to "save" lives. I put save in quotation marks, because I firmly believe the purpose of organ donation in that case, despite it being a case of life and death, is merely to extend one's life. Of course, one has consented to be "exploited", but from a vegan point of view, isn't it similar to a pig presumably saying that it's body should be used to the bone when he eventually dies. The only difference being that the pig has not had the given choice of dying of old age or by accident, the same way a human would have.
Take it from a different point of view: The person having given its consent (or not) to organ donation is treated like a "good" you can "recycle". It is treated in a "humane" way until the heart has given in, in this case has been removed of the body. Then it is continuously treated in a "humane" way, so that the body is restored to a "humane" shape which preserves the "dignity" of the deceased in the eyes of the family. I put everything in quotation marks, because I really think these are problematic terms to use.

Notwithstanding the issue concerning where the eyes/organs/tissues/bones etc. end up, the assumed fact that there was someone's consent implied - be it a personal consent, a family consent or a state consent - it still raises important ethical issues, which, I believe, traditional medicine has not clearly solved yet.