According to the morality of the Catholic Church are there any organs that are not permitted to be offered in organ transplants?

Wikipedia has a very large list of organs that are commonly used in organ transplants.


Heart (deceased-donor only)

Lung (deceased-donor and living-related lung transplantation)

Heart/Lung (deceased-donor and domino transplant)


Kidney (deceased-donor and living-donor)

Liver (deceased-donor and living-donor)

Intestine (deceased-donor and living-donor)

Stomach (deceased-donor only)

Testis (deceased-donor and living-donor)

Tissues, cells and fluids

Hand (deceased-donor only), see the first recipient Clint Hallam

Cornea (deceased-donor only) see the ophthalmologist Eduard Zirm

Skin, including face replant (autograft) and face transplant (extremely rare)

Islets of Langerhans (pancreas islet cells) (deceased-donor and living-donor)

Bone marrow/Adult stem cell (living-donor and autograft)

Blood transfusion/Blood Parts Transfusion (living-donor and autograft)

Blood Vessels (autograft and deceased-donor)

Heart Valve (deceased-donor, living-donor and xenograft [porcine/bovine])

Bone (deceased-donor and living-donor)

Has the Catholic Church ever pronounced anything on the subject as to what organs are or are not permitted to be used in human organ transplants?


2 Answers 2


Yes, the brain and the gonads are not permitted even if the donor is dead.

The general principle regarding the donation of organs is articulated in section 2296 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks incurred by the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient. Donation of organs after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a manifestation of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or those who legitimately speak for him have not given their explicit consent. It is furthermore morally inadmissible directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.

​ Distinction is made between

  • transplants from a dead body
  • transplants from a living body which would cause the disabling mutilation or death of the donor
  • transplants from a living body which would not cause the disabling mutilation or death of the donor.

The donation of body parts from a dead body is approved, and encouraged, but the donation must be explicit, whether by the deceased, prior to death, or by his representative afterwards.

The donation of parts from a living body which would cause the disabling mutilation or death of the donor is not permitted. A heart transplant would, of course, have such an effect.

Transplants which do not result in disabling mutilation are subject to a test of proportionality. This requires balancing the dangers and risks to the donor against the benefits to the recipient. Because the human body contains two kidneys, but can function with one, a kidney transplant would ordinarily come into this category.

The Catholic Medical Association(UK) has stated there is no objection, in principle, to transplants from animals to humans.

Pope Francis has described organ donation as a testimony of love for our neighbour.

In the case of reproductive function section 2376 of the Catechism of the Catholic church reads:

Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' "right to become a father and a mother only through each other."

The Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance and Healthcare Workers , in 1995, listed the brain and the gonads as forbidden from transplantation:

The brain and the gonads may not be transplanted because they ensure personal and procreative identity respectively. These are organs which embody the characteristic uniqueness of the person which medicine is bound to protect.” PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PASTORAL ASSISTANCE AND HEALTH CARE WORKERS, Charter for Health Care Workers (1995) 88.

Transplanting a brain is prohibited because personal identity is held to reside in the brain.

A gonad is either a testis in the case of a gentleman, or an ovary in the case of a lady. The prohibition here is about procreative identity. Children, it is intended, should be the genetic descendants of the married couple to whom they are born. If Mr A were to receive a transplanted testis from Mr B and then impregnate Mrs A, the resulting child, Master or Miss A, would not be the genetic child of Mr and Mrs A, but of Mr B and Mrs A. Similarly if Mrs A received an ovary from Ms C, and was impregnated by Mr A, the child would be the genetic child of Mr A and Ms C. This is the issue.

In the case of a prepubescent boy facing chemotherapy, his testis was removed and later transplanted back. This would not be a problem to the Church as it was not a transplant from another person.

  • No I have no additional info. I was just trying to understand what you wrote. I withdraw my comment. Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 17:22
  • @DJClayworth I will amend it to clarify the above then. . I am sure if it was unclear to you it will be unclear to many. Thanks for pointing this out.
    – davidlol
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 17:32
  • Can you elaborate on what gonad transplantation is according to the Catholic Church
    – 007
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:14
  • @Kris Thank you. I have amended my answer in response to your questions. I gather from the web that both male and female gonad transplants have taken place, but only from very close relatives. In regard to the brain, with present medical ability, such a transplant is impossible. I am unclear though what the difference might be between transplanting a brain to a new body, and transplanting a new body round an existing brain.
    – davidlol
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 0:25

See Benedict Ashley, O.P.'s Health Care Ethics: A Theological Analysis, which discusses organ transplant.

Donating anything (e.g., genitalia) that impedes the proper completion of the marriage act would be prohibited, as this can nullify marriage:

Can. 1084 §1. Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature.

For these body parts, it's difficult to see how the harm done to the donor loosing them would be outweighed by the good done to donee gaining them. (Does anyone do these sort of transplants, anyways?)

Donating anything that results in the body being mutilated would also be prohibited, as people who self-mutilate are prevented from becoming priests:

Can. 1041 The following are irregular for receiving orders:

5/ a person who has mutilated himself or another gravely and maliciously…

Mutilation does more harm to the donor than it does good to the donee.

Also: How does a heart transplant work, anyways? If a heart could be restarted, then it seems the person donating it could be revived and thus would not be deceased.

  • 1
    Hearts for transplant are generally harvested from donors who are brain-dead but have a beating heart (as are most other cadaveric organ explants). Such a state persists long enough for harvesting due to the existence of ventilators and pressors.
    – Susan
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 12:22
  • 1
    I don't see that doing something which would preclude marriage or ordination (paragraphs 2 and 3 respectively) would be prohibited per se. If so, each would be prohibited, for precluding the other. Getting ordained impedes marriage and getting married impedes ordination.
    – davidlol
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 13:11

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