ASK FATHER: Transplant of organ from a person who was a satanist or practitioner of witchcraft, etc.

From a reader…


On Friday, I will br undergoing ACL reconstruction surgery after a farm related injury. Part of the procedure involves rebuilding my ACL by screwing a cadaver tendon in the place of my torn ACL. I am aware the Church considers donating such body parts as acceptable under a clause of Charity. But I have concerns about the spiritual side of the transplant: What if the tendon is not from a Baptised person? Or from an evil, damned or cursed person akin to a witch or satanist? I am considering saying some of the binding prayers for laity both before and after the surgery along with prayers of thanksgiving that I may have the opportunity to walk as a result of this surgery. What are your thoughts on this matter?

GUEST RESPONSE from a priest who is an exorcist and instructor of exorcists:

There is something to what he says. The interaction of the soul with body is so intimate that the spiritual state of the soul leaves a patina – much like relics.

If he could get a priest to exorcise and bless the tendon that would be best. A minor exorcism and blessing can also be done by any priest afterwards.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. redneckpride4ever says:

    I know one shouldn’t eat or drink before surgery. Perhaps one could receive a spiritual communion at daily Mass the day of the surgery if scheduling permits.

    Just my thoughts, certainly not intended as a definitive answer. I leave the definitive stuff to the clergy.

  2. TonyO says:

    As long as the transplant subject is raised: As I understand it (which is not a from complete study of it) the Church has more or less, or qualifiedly, given the OK of doing a transplant from a dead donor to a living recipient, or (and here I am even less sure) a transplant from a living donor to a living recipient for such bodily parts that the donor can live without – e.g. bone marrow transplant, or one of your two kidneys. My question comes from the issue of ascertaining whether the donor is dead, in the case of major, vital organs (such as heart and liver). From the literature I read a few years ago, there remains serious concerns about whether the medical profession’s efforts to define death, and then to determine death are adequate to the task of being certain they are not taking the heart or liver of a person still alive. And (sadly) importing the possibility of taking a viable organ has (apparently) been undermining both aspects of that problem: doctors and scientists being more willing to fudge on nailing down an appropriate definition of death than they otherwise might have been because they don’t want to ruin the chances of organ harvesting for borderline cases, and then doctors willing to fudge on observations and diagnoses as to whether the dying person has, in fact, met the criteria set out for the practical definition of whether death has occurred. But just taking the theoretical problem: has there been clear scientific and ecclesiastical consensus on how we can KNOW death has occurred before significant major organ deterioration has set in, in the usual cases of death from illness (rather than an accident that is sudden and clearly has rendered the patient totally dead from massive trauma)?

  3. APX says:


    Hearts for donation can only be taken from people who are still alive. The medical profession has been using “brain dead” as the definition of death for transplants of vital organs, which isn’t what to Church defines as death. There is apparent death (no heartbeat, no breathing, etc) and actual death (the soul separating from the body. Traditionally determined by rigorous mortis setting in).

  4. Antonia D says:

    This was a very relevant, practical question for our re-paganizing times. I guess anyone who receives blood donations should follow the same advice.

    And…this is all the more reason that practicing Catholics should try to step up our own blood, bone marrow, & kidney donations… who knows what *good* effects they could have on the recipients, especially with our added prayers for them?!

    I will ask the Lord for swift healing and blessing for the original poster.

  5. Shonkin says:

    Wow. This brings up all sorts of complicated questions.
    I got a dental implant last year. In that process, after the tooth extraction, the dentist packs in ground-up sterilized cadaver bone to act as a framework for the patient’s jawbone to grow new bone tissue. (The cadaver bone is believed to be dissolved or resorbed during the growth process.) Then, months later, when solid bone has formed, the titanium post for the implant is screwed into the newly formed bone tissue. Finally, after another recovery process, the false tooth is mounted onto the post.
    So where does the cadaver bone come from? Who knows? Not the dentist nor the patient. It may well be a mixed batch from a number of different cadavers.
    At least there’s no concern here about whether the deceased person was truly deceased.

  6. TonyO says:

    The medical profession has been using “brain dead” as the definition of death for transplants of vital organs, which isn’t what to Church defines as death.

    I agree that some versions of claimed “brain dead” do not qualify for satisfying the Church’s meaning of “dead”, which is the separation of the soul from the body. However, the soul cannot be directly observed by any scientific instrument, and so the condition of death must be assessed by indirect means. Our capacity to infer such fact from empirical signs has increased due to the scientific means available. It is because the soul is the integrating and organizing principle of the body, that indicators of a complete loss of such integration are, therefore, indicators of the lack of a soul. And while activity at the cell and tissue level may be an indicator of activity of life, it’s lack of integration with the rest of the body is an indicator of death. Some body functions can occur without the involvement of brain activity to guide it, but the brain is, also, an important integrating factor in the coherence of the processes for continued life. Due to JPII’s comments in his address in 2000 to the International Conference of Organ Transplant Specialists, i.e. :

    Here it can be said that the criterion adopted in more recent times for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.

    one may legitimately believe that if done properly, ascertaining COMPLETE and irreversible cessation of all brain activity is, as such, a determination that there is no longer present the the sort of integration that belongs to an ensouled body. It is sometimes remarked that even in the case of such complete loss of brain activity (including all parts, i.e. even the stem), medical arts can supply for some of those brain regulations, including activities of heart function by external electrical signals, addition of hormones and other chemicals to regulate body temperature etc. But these medical activities clearly would represent an EXTERNAL source, i.e. the integration of these activities would take place in the minds and acts of the medical team, not by reason of something already integral to the body.

    The problem seems (to me) to be that often people are calling it “brain death” when the person’s brain is not controlling breathing (and maybe is “dead” to many other types of measurable activity), and a ventilator is doing so, but then MOST OF THE OTHER bodily functions occur without direct intervention: in this case, arguably something internal to the body is still integrating activity for life. If complex activities that integrate different organ systems so they continue to act in concert is going on, then that constitutes evidence that the soul is present.

    Traditionally determined by rigorous mortis setting in).

    Throughout the 20th century before transplanting became possible, doctors were announcing death long before rigor mortis set in. They had already refined the state of the determination with better information about what was a repairable / recoverable state, and what was not. The commonly used term “cardio-pulmonary” determination of death disguises a more robust and systematic analysis of the integrated bodily systems, but doctors (correctly) routinely announced death hours before rigor mortis was present.

  7. marianne says:

    @Shonkin- I had a dental implant a couple of years ago and this was the first thing I thought to do! I confirmed with the dentist that the ground bone wasn’t from aborted fetuses (sometimes that’s the case!) then made an appointment with my priest for a blessing after the implant. My priest didn’t think it was necessary but was happy to do it to make me feel better. Basically, he humored me, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way!

  8. KateD says:

    My husband’s thought when I read this to him was, “What if the tendon was from a gymnast? Would the reader then walk like John Cleese in the School of Silly Walks?” Who knows! It could add a little spring to your step. ;D

    We will pray for all to go well and for a good match from a saint. It’s amazing what modern medicine can do!

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