Ending the debate on Organ Donation

Posted by:

Roj Meher Mah Amardad, 1384 Yz.

My article in response to Dasturji Khurshed’s appeal to community members in favour of Organ Donation received enthusiastic responses from both sides of the debate. However, there has been no response so far from Dasturji himself. In the meanwhile, many have written to me asking various points of clarification. Some important points have also been made by a few writers who have disagreed with my views. These queries and points require to be answered, hence this post.

Some writers have asked for references from the Gathas. It is my humble request to these well-meaning but hasty students to kindly study the Gathas – in the original Avesta language first. Those who may not have the time or the intellectual rigour to do so, can scan through the translations of the Gathas and please let me know the references in the Holy Gathas to wearing Sudreh-Kusti, to performance of the Navjote ceremony, or even to the most often used triad of Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta. There is not a single reference in the Gathas to any of these fundamental pillars of the Zoroastrian Faith. Does it mean that we should stop wearing the Sudreh-Kusti, performing the Navjote and give up on Good thoughts, words and deeds?

Zoroastrians should note and remember that over 90% of our scriptures are lost to the ravages of time and the many plunders of invaders. What we have is very little. The Gathas themselves are not a separate entity but are 17 Chapters amongst the 72 Chapters of the Yasna – which is the fundamental ceremonial scripture. Even though they are worshipped and held in the greatest esteem, the Gathas cannot be viewed in isolation and be considered the be-all and end-all of Zoroastrian Doctrine and Theology. They have to be viewed in a holistic manner, along with the rest of the Avesta scripture which is left with us.

Some writers have commented that since organ donations were not possible in the days of the Prophet Zarathushtra, how could any prohibition be placed on such a procedure. The answer is that it is not necessary for everything to be written in the scriptures. The action has to be viewed in the spirit of the entire scriptures and conclusions drawn from therein. The Zoroastrian religion believes strongly in purity. The concept of Nasu or spiritual contagion, is so strongly emphasised in the Avesta, especially the Vandidad, that the very thought of transplanting an organ is unthinkable. Nasu is created not only when a person dies, but also when he indulges in any un-Zoroastrian activity. This is the reason our religion has a large collection of Bajs and Nirangs which are to be recited even while performing normal bodily functions like going to the toilet, having a bath or cutting nails and hair.

Moreover, a close reading of our ancient history shows that the Zoroastrian Priesthood and the Magi were at the forefront of medicine in those days. The Shah Nameh records the first ‘Caesarean’ birth of Rostam many thousands of years before Caesar, through wine-induced anaesthesia. The numerous wars between Iran and its enemies resulted not only in large scale casualties but also many injuries, which were healed by the Magi-physicians who accompanied the army. Yet it is surprising that in all this, not a single mention is made of an organ transplant or a limb transplant.

Several writers have commented on my point about human suffering. Some have asked for scriptural references for the doctrine of reincarnation. To be very sure, there is no re-incarnation for the Zoroastrian who lives his life as per the rules of Asha and the commandments of Prophet Zarathushtra. The problem arises when man does not follow the rule of Asha and twists scripture to do as he pleases. Definitely for such persons, who are called dregvants in the Avesta, re-incarnation is unavoidable. Yasna (and Gatha) Has 34.15, 34.1, 34.8, 32.5, 34.12 and 49.11 all point to this truth. Perhaps the most potent reference for reincarnation comes in the Dhup Nirang which is recited on the dawn of the fourth day after death, where the Priest clearly instructs the Ruvan that if he has not followed the dictates of the Zoroastrian religion, it will have to ‘come back’ (bi-ayand). However, if its conduct has been good, it will not come back (‘agar na-ayand‘) and happily and swiftly pass into the realms of the Just Meher Yazad.

Some writers have asked as to how Ahura Mazda can punish us when He is called Har-Hamid (All Good Natured). But they conveniently leave out the other names of Ahura Mazda pointing to His role as the Last Judge (Davar), Most Just (Adaro), The Taker of Account (Hamarna) and Un-Forgetful (A-Faremosh). The Lord is Just, and the Lord is Merciful – Ahura Mazda remembers everything and will hold us to account for all that we have done. But He is also our Merciful Redeemer (Bokhtar), in that he will make the burden of our past sins bearable to us. This is the real meaning behind the Gatha line ‘akem akai, vanghuhim ashim vanghove’ – evil to the evil doer, good unto the righteous.

Mr Noshir Dadrewala wrote that just as the body is given to us by God, even the wealth is given to us by God. Hence if the body cannot be donated, how can we do charity with our wealth, which is one of the most prominent features of the Parsi community. What Mr Dadrewala does not clarify is that while the principle of charity is enjoined so strongly in our scriptures as well as the Pahlavi Handarz literature, nowhere, absolutely nowhere, is the principle of charity extended to the human body. Even the final giving away of the body to vultures and Dokhmenashini is not described as an act of charity, but rather it is described as a method of ensuring that none of the elements get polluted.

It is also worthwhile to remember that the wealth of an individual depends much on his own industriousness, coupled of course with the blessings of God. Moreover, the act of charity does not break the rule of akem akai in the same way as engrafting the organ of one into another. In fact, the both are poles apart and cannot be compared at all.

Mr Dadrewala has also mentioned the principle of Ushta Ahmai yahmai Ushta kahmaichit – that is, happiness to him who makes others happy. What Mr Dadrewala does not mention, is that the word Asha is a prerequisite for Ushta – it is only through righteousness that Ushta can occur. Also Mr Dadrewala equates Ushta, which refers to spiritual bliss bordering on ecstasy, to normal human happiness, which is very wrong. Material happiness can never be equated with Ushta. A corrupt industrialist bribes a government servant to get a contract. Both are happy, but is this Ushta? A philanderer cheats his wife and spends the night with a lady of pleasure. Both experience pleasure, but is this Ushta? A rogue priest performs a sham marriage between a Parsi and a non-Parsi. All three are happy, but is this Ushta?

True Ushta can only occur when an act of kindness is done as per the Laws of Asha, righteousness, truth and non-deception. Organ donation can never be as per the Law of Asha, since it goes against the Law of Akem akai. Hence any ‘happiness’ that is realized is purely of a artificial, temporary and material type.

Some writers have viewed the prohibition on organ donation as a general prohibition on any medical procedure to save life. This is incorrect. The Zoroastrian religion actively promotes better health. The Ardibehesht Yasht describes the five types of healers – one who heals by purification, one by law and justice, one through the knife (surgery), one through herbal remedies and finally he who heals through the Sacred Manthras. Among the 101 name of God, the name Bishtarna (remover of maladies) and Tarobish (vanquisher of disease) are well known. In our long-standing oral traditions, the practice of Priests reciting the Ardibehesht Yasht and its Nirang, accompanied by the popular handkerchief ritual to remove fevers and other maladies is also well known.

Therefore, any suggestion that the Zoroastrian Religion enjoins suffering or is against the use of medicine is wrong. Modern practices like blood transfusion can be easily explained and allowed since blood is a renewable source with a very limited time life of around 40 days. (Red blood cells last around 42 days, platelets last only around 5 days, plasma can be frozen for up to a year.) Therefore the process of giving or taking blood transfusions does not carry any religious prohibition. Some amount of spiritual damage does happen however, if a Zoroastrian has taken or given blood transfusion and passes away within the next few days. This should not dissuade one from either taking or giving transfusions. It is of course distinctly clear that practicing Priests who are giving Boi in Atash Behrams or performing Pav Mahel ceremonies would temporarily lose their high status if they went through this procedure. They would have to undergo the purification Bareshnum Nahn and perform Khub to re-enter their specialised service. Even Behdins should have a Sadu Nahn after such a procedure.

Similarly, the modern medical practice of joint replacements, stents, dental and corneal implants, orthopaedic supports can all be easily explained and allowed. The important point to remember is that in case of a joint replacement, the original body part should not be allowed to be thrown away as medical waste but should instead be taken by the relatives of patients and placed in an isolated dry, sunny spot, away from city limits, thereby following the requirement of Khurshed Nigareshni. In my interaction with doctors I was surprised to find out that members of certain Muslim sects also request doctors to handover the original bone parts that are replaced by metal implants.

In conclusion, the debate on Organ Donation needs to be conducted in an un-emotional manner, taking the scriptures and our long-standing traditions as our guide. There are deeper spiritual reasons prohibiting this practice which can place severe roadblocks in the Ruvan’s journey after the physical death. The Zoroastrian religion and its fundamental precepts cannot be changed on the whims or emotions of any individual or on the advances of science and technology.

Some writers have made personal remarks and comments against me and my family in this debate. May Ahura Mazda and His Prophet Zarathushtra shower Their Choicest Blessings on their Ruvans, so that their faith in our religion is re-kindled and they arrive on the Right Path of Asha once again.

Finally, I would like to quote a beautiful passage from Pope Benedict’s speech at his Installation Mass. Speaking about his role and the Papacy, the Holy Father said: “the real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history.”

Similarly, the role of our Vada Dasturjis is not merely to conduct weddings and Navjotes and to be chairmen of community Trusts. They need to lead the community at this time of crisis. They need to articulate what the religion and our scriptures say, not voice their personal opinions. They need to be those we can look up to at a time when the very existence of the community is in question. They need to be shining paragons of virtue, un-sullied by materialism. They need to be strong as light-houses, unfazed by the waves of modernism, the storms of scientific thought and the tempests of so-called humanism. Only then can they be deemed worthy enough to be called ‘Dastur’ – one who will lead the Faithful to Ushta and Frashogard.

May they all rise to this challenge in the coming New Year.

Wishing all readers of Frashogard a happy, prosperous and spiritually uplifting 2015. May the Advent of Shah Behram Varzavand materialize sooner than we expect!

Ervad Marzban J Hathiram

Related posts:

11

Comments

  1. Keiky M Press  December 31, 2014

    A sound explanation of Ervad Marzbanji’s reading and knowledge of the scriptures as passed on to him by his Gurus. Let those who agree with him accept the same and make their own choice in case of decisions to be made. There is no need for antagonists to show disrespect to his writings and malign him.
    Happy & Healthy New Year to all!

  2. Aspy Khan  December 31, 2014

    Ervad Marzban, thank you once again for concluding the ‘touchy’ debate with the above article, explaining all points raised with religious annotations.
    Specially liked where you touched upon……what….our Vadaa Dasturjis’ need to be/do ……….
    Their active participation, which for decades has been invisible, is imperative for the emancipation of our community. Time for them to awaken for if they don’t then the future is bleak for all Zarthostis, us & definitely them.

  3. Delnaz Taraporewala  December 31, 2014

    Respected Ervadji,
    Thank you very much for the Frashogard website and blog which enlightens us on the various articles of the Zarathushtrian Mystical Revelation – Ilm-e-Kshnoom.
    Wish you and your family Great, Prosperous, Blissful, Healthy, Bright, Delightful, Energetic and Extremely Happy, HAPPY NEW YEAR 2015!!!

  4. Burzin Vispi Engineer  December 31, 2014

    Dear Mobed Saheb, thank you for sealing this debate for good. ‘Tame aaje ek Dastur ni Faraj bajavich’.

    Hope our Vada Dasturjis give us sound religious guidance and may our community once again walk on the prescribed path and see better days.

    Mobed saheb, Happy New year to you and your loved ones. Also wishing all the readers if Farshogard a Happy New Year.

  5. Mohnaz  January 1, 2015

    Ervad Saheb,

    Thanks you for such an apt n well worded reply … as was in the first case too extremelly pertinent .. Hope the ignorant do get it this time … else they may follow whatever is in their destiny as per the Great Lord’s plans … Appreciate all the guidance provided by you always to all like me …. Wishing you & your family a Happy n prosperous New year ahead … may the Almighty bless you with the best in the comming year…… Best Regards … Humbly Yours …..

  6. Firdosh D Sabawalla  January 4, 2015

    Dear Ervad Marzbansaheb, I would like to thank you for such wonderful article’s on organ donation and concluding the topic with this debate. It is nice to read your articles.

    I hope to read many more such interesting articles.

    Wishing you and your family a very prosperous 2015.

  7. Maneck  January 9, 2015

    Dear Ervad Marazban Saheb, Your explanation is most well worded and thought provoking. Thank you for guiding us on the right path as this is most necessary at this point of time. Let those who do not believe go their own way but atleast those who believe are blessed with your proper guidance and we are most thankful to you for the same.

  8. Bahram  May 17, 2015

    It surprising how ill informed you are about Zarathustra’s teachings and yet you managed to quote so much from the books assigned to Zoroastrianism as a support to your argument.

    I am going to point out your flawed understanding of Asha for now.

    When a person performs Asha and makes another person happy that happiness is not limited to those two individuals/parties but makes the whole world a better place so it should not cost other righteous people their happiness. Cheating and bribing are wrong because there is always an innocent party (who follows Asha) that is getting hurt; cheating involves the spouse’s trust in the cheater to be trustworthy and reliable and similarly the bribing action means a legitimate businessman (who follows Asha) is betrayed because the corrupt one is using illegal methods (i.e. bribing) to achieve his/her goals. So that happiness is causing other people harm who are following Asha unlike organ donor’s act who is not causing anyone any harm, but he is giving another human being another chance at life to perform Asha.

    Now getting to the argument of the organ donation; I just want to remind you that what is our purpose in this world; to make it a better living place for everyone and the guidelines are given to us by our prophet Zarathustra, Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. So for one moment think about it, if you can save another person’s life by donating an organ then explain who is being harmed in this act of donation. Do you really believe that God is going to punish the donor because he donated his body part to save somebody’s life. What if that somebody turned out to be another great soul like Mother Teresa? How can that be against the prosperity of this world and every living creature in it.

    My last argument is pro organ donation and I want to explain the act of organ donation through the Good Deed, and Good Thought point of view from three pillars of Zoroastrian Religion, Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds.
    The donor helped another human being and gave that person another chance at life to perform Asha. Now the receiver has the OPTION to follow Asha and make the world a better place for other human beings or follow Angrah Meynoo and become “Jack the Ripper”. Becoming the former individual is obviously the perfect outcome and there is no way that God can be against this action; however, If the receiver became the latter individual it’s not the donor’s fault since he did not deliberately harm another person. Donor gave someone the option to be good or bad. His action is similar to A. Nobel’s invention (the dynamite) can be used as good or evil.

    I don’t know how can we be so confident about conditions of Ruvan and what happens in afterlife that we forget our humanitarian rights in this world, but I believe in Zarathustra teachings being humane is more important than anything else.

  9. Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram  May 17, 2015

    @Bahram
    Thanks for writing. It is surprising that you write so eloquently about the message of Prophet Zarathushtra and Zoroastrianism, as you see it, but without including a single reference from the Avesta scriptures, which are our guiding light. Being humane is perfect. But also be learned about what the religion says. Merely repeating Good thoughts, words and deeds is not the solution.

    But of course you have the full right to your opinion, as I have mine.

    Keep well!

  10. Aspy Khan  May 17, 2015

    Bahram,
    May we all be enlightened as to your claim, having the correct understanding of the ‘true’ message of Prophet Zarathushtra and Zoroastrianism. From your last paragraph it is apparent that you are more than skeptical of the existence of ‘Ruvan’ itself & so would rather lean in favour of known earthly parameters & doing good. When you question the basics of our religion then you are bound to have a contrary view, however misguided it is. Your prescribed action constitutes a short gain, a feel good factor, but with disastrous consequences later (for the true believer). However you are fully entitled to your opinion, as many of us here are to ours.

  11. RUMI PATEL  January 23, 2016

    Dear Ervad Marzban Saheb,

    In this article you discussed the concept of organ donation.

    What about a young Zarathosti who requires a kidney or else he will die in a few days? Do we let this person die only because in Zoroastrianism we do not allow other person’s organ to be transplanted into our body.

    Kindly enlighten us.

    Regards.

Leave a Reply