Written by Vladimir Moss


     Cannibalism, vampirism, necrophilia – for generations these ideas have been regarded with horror and loathing not only by Christian but also by non-Christian peoples. They have been the stuff of bad Hollywood horror movies, which frighten children and disgust adults. But they are becoming reality now… Since the 1960s, with extraordinary stubbornness, surgeons and doctors have been attempting to heal diseases by transplanting organs from dead or even – horror of horrors! – living donors. This has led to a new form of organized crime – the extraction of body parts from living people (often Chinese criminals being executed or poor peasants in Turkey or India) in order to prolong the lives of rich sick people in the West.

     “But no! this is a gross distortion!” some will say. “The selfless donation of organs to save the lives of others has nothing to do with such nefarious practices! After all, we’re talking about science, not magic!”

     Are we? A recent BBC documentary on the greatest of scientists, Sir Isaac Newton, was entitled “The Last Magician”. For Newton, in addition to writing his great works on light and the movement of bodies, also practiced alchemy and tried to find the philosopher’s stone… Many writers, from C.S. Lewis to Fr. Seraphim Rose, have emphasized the roots of science in magic, and their common aim, by fair means or foul, not only to understand nature, but also, and primarily, to gain control over it. This desire to control nature independently of, and sometimes in conscious opposition to, the will of nature’s Creator, cannot lead to good. Of course, modern science likes to think that it always does its work for the common good of mankind; but successive tragedies, from Hiroshima to thalidomide to recent attempts to create human beings from three different parents paint a different picture.

     An experiment at the CERN elementary particle collider near Geneva could, we are told, have blown up the whole world… But the chance of it doing that was very small… Well, that’s alright then! So we can continue to throw tens of billions of dollars into experiments that might – just might – blow up the world with a good conscience! Crazy scientists! Can we really believe that the motivation for such work was pure altruism?! How can such extreme irresponsibility be condoned?!

     God’s greatest work, the crown of His creation, is the nature of man. Science with all its ingenuity has never come close to creating anything as extraordinary as a man, and can certainly not improve on man as God has created him. Once there was a scientific conference that tried to establish ways of improving on the human hand. The conclusion was: we cannot improve on it. You cannot do better than God. For “Thou hast fashioned me, and hast laid Thy hand upon me. Thy knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is mighty, I cannot attain unto it…” (Psalm 138.4-5). When man attempts to overstep the bounds of nature by trying to improve on it, he is always silently rebuked. Thus attempts to transplant organs from one human body to another always come up against an obvious and decisive sign of God’s displeasure – rejection. Only by massive doses of drugs administered daily and for the rest of one’s life will the body be persuaded to accept the foreign invasion of the donor’s body part.

     Inadvertently, in the course of these transplant operations, scientists have discovered what the Holy Fathers always knew but which our modern mechanistic theories have caused us to forget: that there is a very mysterious, even ineffable union between the soul and the body, between certain functions that we would term psychological and certain “purely” physical organs. We are not here talking about the crude materialist theory that mental activity is simply the same as brain activity. We are talking about the fact that memory, emotion, even personal identity seem to be linked with every organ of the body.

     We have always known this about the heart. And the first heart-transplant operations produced frightening results. The family of the man who received a new heart could not recognize him after the operation; he seemed to be a different person. Later transplants have confirmed that many of the characteristics of the donor seem to be transplanted with his heart into the patient. Some of these characteristics are trivial, such as tastes in food; others are more serious, such as sexual orientation, or suicidal thoughts…

     More recently, as Dr. Danny Penman writes, scientists “started claiming that our memories and characters are encoded not just in our brain, but throughout our entire body.

     “Consciousness, they claim, is created by every living cell in the body acting in concert.

     “They argue, in effect, that our hearts, livers and every single organ in the body stores our memories, drives our emotions and imbues us with our own individual characters. Our whole body, they believe, is the seat of the soul; not just the brain.

     “And if any of these organs should be transplanted into another person, parts of these memories – perhaps even elements of the soul – might also be transferred.

     “There are now more than 70 documented cases… where transplant patients have taken on some of the personality traits of the organ donors.

     “Professor Gary Schwartz and his co-workers at the University of Arizona have documented numerous seemingly inexplicable experiences… And every single one is a direct challenge to the medical status quo.

     “In one celebrated case uncovered by Professor Schwartz’s team, an 18-year-old boy who wrote poetry, played music and composed songs was killed in a car crash. A year before he died, his parents came across a tape of a song he had written, entitled, Danny, My Heart is Yours.

     “In his haunting lyrics, the boy sang about how he felt destined to die and donate his heart. After his death, his heart was transplanted into an 18-year-old girl – named Danielle.

     “When the boy’s parents met Danielle, they played some of his music and she, despite never having heard the song before, knew the words and was able to complete the lyrics.

     “Professor Schwartz also investigated the case of a 29-year-old lesbian fast-food junkie who received the heart of a 19-year-old vegetarian woman described as ‘man crazy’.

     “After the transplant, she told friends that meat now made her sick, and that she no longer found women attractive. In fact, shortly after the transplant she married a man.

     “In one equally inexplicable case, a middle-aged man developed a newfound love for classical music after a heart transplant.

     “It transpired that the 17-year-old donor had loved classical music and played the violin. He had died in a drive-by shooting, clutching a violin to his chest.

     “Nor are the effects of organ transplants restricted to hearts. Kidneys also seem to carry some of the characteristics of their original owners.

     “Take the case of Lynda Gammons from Weston, Lincolnshire, who donated one of her kidneys to her husband Ian.

     “Since the operation, Ian believes he has taken on aspects of his wife’s personality. He has developed a love of baking, shopping, vacuuming and gardening. Prior to the transplant, he loathed all forms of housework with a vengeance.

     “He has also adopted a dog – yet before his operation he was an avowed ‘cat man’, unlike his wife who favoured dogs…”[1]

     Not surprisingly, there is nothing on transplants in the patristic writings. And to the present writer’s knowledge, there are no contemporary conciliar church decisions. However, Church Tradition provides us with some important clues in our search for guidance in this question…

     Thus St. Philaret of New York wrote: “The heart is the center, the mid-point of man's existence. And not only in the spiritual sense, where heart is the term for the center of one's spiritual person, one's ‘I’; in physical life, too, the physical heart is the chief organ and central point of the organism, being mysteriously and indissolubly connected with the experiences of one's soul. It is well known to all how a man's purely psychical and nervous experiences joy, anger, fright, etc.,are reflected immediately in the action of the heart, and conversely how an unhealthy condition of the heart acts oppressively on the psyche and consciousness... Yes, here the bond is indissolubleand if, instead of the continuation of a man's personal spiritual-bodily life, concentrated in his own heart, there is imposed on him a strange heart and some kind of strange life, until then totally unknown to himthen what is this if not a counterfeit of his departing life; what is this if not the annihilation of his spiritual-bodily life, his individuality, his personal ‘I’? And how and as whom will such a man present himself at the general resurrection?

     “But the new attainment does not end even here. It is intended also to introduce into the organism of a man the heart of an animal—i.e., so that after the general resurrection a ‘man’ will stand at the Last Judgement with the heart of an ape (or a cat, or a pig, or whatever). Can one imagine a more senseless and blasphemous mockery of human nature itself, created in the image and likeness of God?

     “Madness and horror! But what has called forth this nightmare of criminal interference in man's lifein that life, the lawful Master of which is its Creator alone, and no one else? The answer is not difficult to find. The loss of Christian hope, actual disbelief in the future life, failure to understand the Gospel and disbelief in it, in its Divine truthfulnessthese are what have called forth these monstrous and blasphemous experiments on the personality and life of man. The Christian view of life and death, the Christian understanding and conception of earthly life as time given by God for preparation for eternityhave been completely lost. And from this the result is: terror in the face of death, seen as the absolute perishing of life and the annihilation of personality; and a clutching at earthly lifelive, live, live, at any cost or means prolong earthly life, after which there is nothing!”[2]

     St. Philaret’s reference to the general resurrection and the last judgement provides us with the clue, not just to the evaluation of transplants, but also of a whole host of medical innovations that appear to have as their hidden aim the transformation and degradation of our understanding of man.

     The Orthodox Church teaches, on the one hand, that the soul survives the death of the body, and continues to function with full consciousness even after the body has been reduced to dust; but on the other hand, that the body will be resurrected at the last day in order that soul and body together may receive the reward fitting to them for the deeds they have performed together in life. This illustrates two important truths. First, man, the whole man, is not soul alone, still less body alone, but soul and body together. Just as they are conceived together and simultaneously, so they will enter into eternal life together.[3] And secondly, every soul will be judged with his own personal body, and not with any other’s.

     This second truth is sometimes doubted on the grounds that in the course of a man’s lifetime every single cell in his body dies and is replaced many times, so that it makes no sense to speak about “his own personal body”. We borrow the elements of our body from outside organisms and replace them in a constant interchange that unites us indissolubly with the nature around us and with each other. However, the discovery of DNA in the 1950s weakened this objection in that it showed how, in principle, a man’s body can be said to be the same throughout his lifetime and in spite of the fact that the entire cellular composition of his body may be different from what it was at birth. His bodily identity may be said to be encapsulated in his DNA. Thus every organ and every cell of my body is marked by a seal showing that it belongs to me and me alone – my personal DNA. This is who I am, physically speaking. This is the natural order, the foundation of my personal physical identity and the earnest of the re-establishment of my personal physical identity at the General Resurrection.

     Of course, scientists may find new forms of personal identification that are still more exact and indestructible than DNA. But that is not the point. The point is that we now know how in principle a body can be said to be the same and unique and belonging to only one person in spite of the most radical overhauls in its cellular and atomic composition.

     In view of this, it is not difficult to understand why God has ordained that my body rejects the invasion of a body part with a different DNA – it’s simply not me! Physical rejection by the body should be accompanied by moral rejection by the soul – it cannot be God’s will for this mixing of persons (and even of species) to take place! Of course, this general thesis raises as many questions as it answers. Are all organ transplants to be rejected? Or only transplants of the most complex and central organs, such as the heart, and perhaps the liver?

     The present writer will make no attempt to provide answers to such questions. Only a truly Orthodox Synod, employing the expertise of doctors and scientists, can determine such matter. But we can continue to explore the issue in its more general aspects…

     The mixing of the body parts of different people in one organism can be compared to the sin of fornication. Some will immediately reject this comparison, saying that the sin of fornication consists in the experience of illicit sexual pleasure whereas transplants involve only pain… However, the presence of pleasure or pain is neither here nor there. Fornication is a sin, not because it involves sexual pleasure, but because it involves the mixing of two bodies leading (in the case of conception) to the creation of a new human from the mixing of the bodies and their DNA. Such a mixing is forbidden by God except under the circumstances of lawful marriage. Transplants also involve a mixing of DNA. And no Synod has yet declared under what circumstances it is and is not lawful…

     Chaste people have a strong sense of personal identity, both spiritual and physical. While loving other people, they retain a strong sense of their individuality, and jealously preserve that individuality and sexual purity for the sake of union with God. For God will not enter into union, whether spiritually or physically (in His Body and Blood), with those who are promiscuous, who mix their own identity with others’. It can hardly be coincidental that the development of organ transplant techniques has gone in parallel with the development of various new techniques in the field of sexual reproduction. Contraception, in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood all involve sins against chastity; GM crops and genetic therapy are further violations of God’s order concerning the natural bounds that must be preserved between species and individuals.

     All this is taking place within the context of an evolutionist world-view that rejects the idea of the separate creation of species and individuals, but sees everything as having evolved from something else, so that nature is a kind of huge pan-cosmic soup in which every element can be interchanged with every other. For those who think like this there is no reason why man, as the summit of evolution, should not stir the pot still more… But in the dietary laws of the Old Testament God indicated that some things should not be mixed with other things; and even if these laws have been superseded in the New Testament, the principle they teach remains valid: certain things are different and separate from each other, and should remain different and separate. Thus men are different from women and should remain so. The attempt to create some kind of unisex or “metrosex” hybrid, and still more the practice of men acting as women or women acting as men in sexual relations, is unnatural and an abomination in the sight of the Lord…  

     The goal of life is union, union in love with God and with our neighbour. But this union is unity in diversity, not unity in perversity; it transcends, but does not destroy, the natural differences that God has installed into creation for all ages. Recent developments in organ transplants and gene therapy witness, not to man’s ability to mix the immiscible (for nature will always take its revenge and reject false unions), but to his fallen, demonic desire always to rebel, to remove the boundaries set by the Creator within His creation and thereby to fulfill the ancient dream of our forefathers: “ye shall be as gods...”

April 5/18, 2013.

[1] Penman, “Can we really transplant a human soul?” The Daily Mail (London), April 9, 2008.

[2] St. Philaret, “An Orthodox View of Heart Transplantations”, Pravoslavnaia Rus’, No. 4, 1968; The Orthodox Word, Vol. 4, No. 3 (May-June 1968), pp. 134-137.

[3] As St. Maximus the Confessor writes: “Neither exists in separation from the other before their joining together which is destined to create one form. They are, in effect, simultaneously created and joined together, as is the realization of the form created by their joining together.” (Letter 15; P.G. 91:552D, 6-13) Again, St. John of Damascus writes: “body and soul were formed at one and the same time, not first the one and then the other, as Origen so senselessly supposed.” (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, II, 12).

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