Organ Donation Debate
Parsis thrive on controversy and debates; sometime I think that’s what keeps us alive. If we are not debating on whether to consign our dead to the dakhma or the crematorium, we would be debating on whether we should be eating at least fish and eggs during Bahman Mah. There are also milder debates on reincarnation and whether the head on the fravahar symbol should face left or right or whether we should sit or stand during the boi ceremony? Oh we just love to argue!
Now the latest ‘seasonal’ debate is over ‘organ donations’.
I read Ervadsaheb Marzban Hathiram’s article published in the Jam-e-Jamshed with interest.
Ervadsaheb states: “charity can be done only with that which is ours, not that which belongs to someone else. …. The moot question is this – is the human body ours or does it belong to the All mighty?”
My moot response would be; does anything really belong to us? Theologically, everything belongs to God. So if this argument is to be taken seriously even our wealth (or our knowledge) does not belong to us and therefore if God has blessed us with wealth or knowledge, we should keep it only to ourselves.
According to esoteric theories the visually impaired are challenged due to some “karmic” debt. However, in like manner some are poor, hungry and roofless, also due to “karmic” debt. And, therefore by this logic, Jejeeboy, Petit, Tata, Godrej and the Wadia families should all have kept their God given wealth to themselves and let the poor and roofless endure their “karmic” fate! Who are we to lessen the burden of those who suffer due to their past or present karma? By being charitable are we not putting a spoke in the karmic wheel of Divine Retribution?
Ervadsaheb also feels that “real charity means giving away something even though we may need it”. I agree with that. But just as we give of our wealth when alive and also leave much of our estate after we depart in our will, we could contribute blood or plasma while alive to save lives and organs when we are no more! Charity can be done as much during life as after death.
Ervadsaheb says, “It is a well-known fact that in case any part of the human body is amputed or severed it is never thrown away but is always consigned to the Dakhma, after performing the GehSarna ritual.” Well, I had my tonsils removed when I was a child, but, I am not sure what the doctors did with that. An uncle had his gall bladder and appendix removed. I am not sure if the priests would have done a GehSarna ritual over it and then consign it to the dakhma?
There is high incidence of breast and ovarian cancer among Parsi women and prostrate and testicular cancers among Parsi men. I can’t think of priests performing ceremonies over these body parts and consigning them to the dokhma.
If one goes strictly by the scriptures, the Dakhma should be situated far away from where people live. But do we follow that? No, in fact we built a Parsi colony where there was once a jungle! According to esoteric Zoroastrianism the body should be fully disposed by the fourth day and the ‘anasaar’ (‘spiritual components’) handed over to Daham Yazata. But, it is a fact that today the bodies take months to decompose. Would you rather have a crow or a kite peck out your loved one’s eyes or a surgeon gracefully taking out the cornea and put light in someone else’s eye and life.
I have a dear Parsi friend (now 80 years young) who lost vision in one eye 37 years ago. From a super active and creative Bank executive he suddenly became a helpless and dependent individual. 17 years later he lost vision in the other eye. To his good fortune and thanks to a donor, he underwent surgery and his life not only returned to normalcy but he began to do a lot of social work. Thanks to him more than a thousand Parsis have visited Iran over the last two decades. Think about it; should he have accepted blindness as karmic retribution or undergone surgery and make a difference in this world with the gift of sight? Thanks to this experience, several members of his family (including his mother and wife) have already donated their eyes after death.
The Zoroastrian scriptures are silent on the subject of organ donation because surgery was not so advanced in those days. When scriptures are silent, tradition is often invoked. I am all for tradition. But, higher than tradition is the Truth. And, the Truth is, our religion is based on Ushta or happiness and happiness comes to one who makes others happy. Let us never stray away from this fundamental precept.
To conclude, let’s not make an issue out of this. If you feel like donating blood to save a life go right ahead and donate. If you wish to donate your cornea, kidney, liver or heart after death, go ahead. You could also donate your skin and bring relief to a person who is badly burnt and in agony. But, if you do not wish to do so, that also would be alright. After all, whose body is it anyway?
This response is neither written with the intent to fan the flame of this latest controversy nor to offend any orthodox/traditional sentiments. To each their own … for those who wish to donate their organs after death, no coaxing will ever be needed and those who do not wish to, no argument will be possible.
From dust I came and to dust I shall return or from life I came and to life I shall give back and live on in someone else’s eye or heart. That choice is entirely yours!