Religious people who want their bodies preserved for the after-life are the least likely organ transplant donors, a finding that has led to the clergy being urged to discuss the issue with their congregations.

Religious people who want their bodies preserved for the after-life are the least likely organ transplant donors, a finding that has led to the clergy being urged to discuss the issue with their congregations.

Despite the main religions having no objection to organ donation, believers are still less inclined than non-believers to donate, according to research by Dr Lawrence Stein from the University of Pittsburgh.

"Religious people seemed more concerned about their bodies and what would happen to them after death. If they had chosen to be cremated they wanted their bodies intact," said Dr Stein, who wrote the study of 400 people. "Secular people were far more willing to donate because they did not cling to the image of an intact body after death.

"Individuals who tend to practise their religious beliefs more intensely in their everyday lives may be less concerned about prolonging lives, because the hereafter may be more important to them than life here on earth."

He added that the clergy could play a big part in encouraging people to sign up for organ donor schemes, by talking to their congregations about the issues involved.

In Britain, hundreds of people die each year waiting for transplants. Two hundred died last year and about 7,000 were on the waiting list. One in four heart patients died waiting for a donor. The number of donors reached its lowest figure for 10 years, with 822 joining the donor register.

Dr Stein said that the people in the Pittsburgh study were questioned about their religious beliefs, their attitude to donating and their fear of dying.

The findings showed that the people who cared most about their family and friends were also likely to volunteer their organs for donation. "It seems that people who are more concerned about family and friends may also be more concerned about people in general," Dr Stein said.

Fear of dying was found not to influence people's choice. However, those who had a strong sense of self were found to be keener to keep their bodies intact. "Body mutilation following death may be one of the strongest deterrents to non-donors," Dr Stein said.

* More than 80 per cent of people whose pets die grieve for at least six months. Research by the University of Michigan-Flint has shown that pets are often considered so much part of the family their loss is the equivalent to a relative's death. Their owners admitted to crying and feeling depressed.

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