A Small Foretaste

Transplants are a way of restoring life, in a small way, a repetition of what our Father did for us in his Son’s resurrection.

In December 1967, Christiaan Barnard carried out the first heart transplant. The patient died 18 days later of pneumonia. Today about 70 percent of patients survive more than five years after such a transplant, and over 50 percent survive more than 10 years. Given the compromised health of many patients receiving a heart transplant, these are remarkable survival rates.

Many other organ transplants show similar success. Lung transplant patients have a 50 percent survival rate after 5.5 years. Kidney transplant recipients live about 10 to 15 years longer than patients on dialysis. Needless to say, transplantation has come a long way since its early days, and in many cases it is now the gold standard in treatment for end-case medical conditions. However, there is one major limit on transplants: donors.

But there are ways to increase the donor ranks. Currently, in Ontario, you have to register to be an organ donor, even if you’ve signed a donor card. You can do this online or at a ServiceOntario location. This is what’s known as an opt-in system. An opt-out system, like the one instituted last year in Nova Scotia, gets better results. The difference is huge: below 15 percent of the population donates under opt-in, over 85 percent under opt-out.

For Christians, the death of our Lord Jesus Christ is the centre of our faith. His resurrection sweeps away the death that we and every creature on earth faces, and we look forward to the promise of coming into our true home because of the work Christ accomplished on the cross. For most of humanity, this will be a resurrection, while for those who are alive at the second coming of our Lord, it will be a direct entry into the New Jerusalem.

Scripture’s descriptions of the ultimate result of Easter are rich with metaphor but vague on details. The coming reality is captured in many ways: as the church being the bride of Christ, as our Lord returning like a thief in the night and as a city descending from on high. We are told that at death, we will go to a place with many mansions, where we are not given in marriage and where every tear shall be wiped away. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, without the resurrection, our hope would be vain. But what our new life will be is unclear; we see darkly. He says later, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). Thus, we Christians wait in the already-but-not-yet for the glory that will be revealed to us.

Transplants are a way of restoring life, a gift that is, in a small way, a repetition of what our Father did for us in his Son’s resurrection. We can see life where death has ruled. Like all things in this “not yet,” it is a limited gift; though death is delayed, all transplant recipients do still die. For the recipient, the transplant is a foretaste of what will come to full glory when our Lord returns. For the donor, it is a dying to Christ and an opportunity to participate in his death with a bit of the promise of the resurrection realized.

In the spirit of Easter’s resurrection, Christians should be at the forefront of those pushing for legal changes that make transplants more available. We should all be willing to be individual organ donors and make that decision known to those around us. And we should push for legislative changes that make organ donation the legal default, unless an individual has explicitly opted out of the donation program. Our Lord’s death and resurrection requires it.

  • Rudy Eikelboom is a Professor of Psychology, at Wilfrid Laurier University, who has emerged from the dark side of the University after being department chair for 9 years and now teaches behavioural statistics to graduate and undergraduate psychology students. His retirement looms and he is looking forward to doing more writing on the implications of modern science for our Christian faith. Currently, he serves as a pastoral elder at the Waterloo Christian Reformed Church.

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