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Our readers asked:

My secular humanist husband tells me that I cannot donate my body to science as a Catholic? True?

Rev. Leo A. Walsh, S.T.D. Answers:

Not true. Catholics may donate their bodies to science. However, it does require some special logistics for the funeral and burial. This is not hard to do since most tissue banks are very appreciative of the donation and work very hard to respect the wishes of the family. The Catholic funeral rite has three parts: the Vigil, the Funeral Mass, and the Burial Rite. The Vigil and the Funeral Mass can happen soon after your death, with or without the body, depending on the type of donation. However, the Burial Rite may take place much later. It is required that when they have finished with your body that your remains be given a Christian burial. Bodies which have been donated to science are always cremated. As such, the cremated remains are to be buried or entombed whole and intact with a suitable memorial marker. They should not be scattered. This is done out of respect for our belief in the resurrection of the dead. For more information, go to the site of the American Association of Tissue Banks at http://www.aatb.org/. Here is also an interesting article on the web on how to donate your body to science.

The Author : Rev. Leo A. Walsh, S.T.D.
The Rev. Leo A. Walsh, S.T.D., formerly the Interreligious Affairs specialist at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is now pastor of St. Benedict's Parish in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo Credit: Bob Roller, Catholic News Service (CNS).
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Seriously? Are you saying that you believe that literally? First of all, why would you need a body? What’s the point? And … “restores his kingdom on earth”… well, if you take into consideration all of the people who have died throughout the millennia (especially considering the present out-of-control population growth), wouldn’t it be rather crowded? Not to mention that if the aforementioned kingdom is restored, there would have to be some serious work done to get rid of the pollution and to provide enough non-toxic, arable land to feed such numbers, if that’s even possible. Or are you saying that the resurrected people wouldn’t need to eat? Are the actual physical bodies them somehow maintained magically? I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t make sense. Even it it could somehow be maintained, “heaven” is supposed to be eternal, right? The planet Earth is not. After a few billion years, our sun will fizzle out, meteors will probably eventually demolish the planet, and so on. Unless it’s not an actual physical planet you’re talking about? In which case, why have a physical body.

  • Matt Abid

    Julie–when Jesus restores his kingdom on earth, we will have our bodies. We profess that in the Creed–“We believe in the Resurrection of the body”

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Wow, this floored me. Tell me if I’m getting the wrong idea, but I have the impression from this that there is the Catholic opinion still seems to be that one’s physical body actually is resurrected? Is that the current idea?

  • Julie

    I’m so glad you started this discussion in a public forum. I actually work for the whole body donation program mentioned in the Fox News article linked at the bottom of the answer provided above.

    Part of my work at Science Care, http://www.sciencecare.com, has been educating the public about end-of-life donation options. What I found is that there seems to be a general sense of acceptance of organ donation in most religions as long as is for “the greater good.” If you are interested in viewing various religious viewpoints on organ and whole body donation, take a moment and review this document.

    One thing I will caution folks about is to make sure and do your research about whole body donation programs. We recommend only signing up with a program that holds to the highest quality and safety standards and, at the least, has been accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks. You can see the full list of accredited non-transplant tissue banks on their website: http://www.aatb.org. This is really the only way to ensure that you are donating to a legitimate and ethical organization.

    Good luck to you in your research!

  • Heather

    A good friend of mine recently graduated nursing school, and the cadaver in her anatomy class belonged to a Catholic priest :)

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