The Perils of Organ Donation

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Roj Dae-pa-Meher Mah Tir, 1384 Yz.

[A note to overseas readers of Frashogard: On 17th November 2014, Dasturji Khurshed of Udvada, in his address to community members gathered at the Sanjan Memorial to observe Sanjan Day, made a plea for Parsis to donate their organs. This plea was given headline publicity by the Jame Jamshed in its issue dated 23rd November. A rejoinder to Dasturji Khurshed’s views was sent by me to Jame and appears in today’s edition. It is reproduced below for the benefit of all Parsis.]

Dasturji Khurshed’s appeal on Sanjan Day to Parsis to join other Indians in Organ Donation is most noble and noteworthy. Dasturji’s enthusiasm for this movement arose from his being moved to tears while performing the Navjote of a visually impaired Zoroastrian child. As such, Dasturji’s motives for his pronouncement are worthy of appreciation.
But the important point to consider is this: Is Dasturji Khurshed voicing his personal opinion or is he pronouncing a religious opinion, given his position as a High Priest of the Udvada 9 families Anjuman? If Dasturji clarifies that this is his personal opinion then he is entitled to have it. But if he is making a religious pronouncement then the same has to be examined with what is written in the scriptures and the spirit of the Avesta, along with an examination of the long standing traditions and precepts (revered in the Avesta as Dareghayao Upayanayao) of our community.

Before we examine the doctrinal position, let us consider the issue in a rational manner, which is much in vogue today. The central focus of organ donation is the concept of charity, of giving away what is ours to another, less fortunate member of society. The important point to make here is that charity can be done only with that which is ours, not that which belongs to someone else. If my neighbour is a very rich man I cannot appropriate his wealth and distribute it to the poor and call it charity. That would be akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul. The moot question is this – is the human body ours, or does it belong to God?

Secondly real charity does not lie in giving away something when we no longer need it – real charity means giving away something even though we may need it. Those public personas and film stars who proudly proclaim their signing organ donation forms, if they were really charitable, would give away their organs whilst living! Why do you need two kidneys when the body can do with one? Why not give away one eye and live with the other? If even 20% of the global population did so, the waiting list for organ transplants would disappear!

The concept of organ donation in a Zoroastrian context is far from charity and more like robbing Pesi to pay Rusi. The human body we have is not our own. It is given to us by Ahura Mazda, in a sacred covenant. The body and its faculties are to be used for one purpose – to advance the soul in its spiritual progress and to take creation one step closer to salvation – Frashogard. Once the destined time span of an individual is over, the body – along with all its parts, is to be returned to Ahura Mazda in the way directed in the scriptures – by exposing the body to sunlight and vultures, in a specially constructed and ritually consecrated religious institution called the Dakhma, along with certain specific ceremonies and rituals.

It is worth remembering that the Zoroastrian religion states that the human body is formed of nine parts – three physical – (Tanu, Gaetha, Azda), three ultra-physical (Keherp, Ushtan-Ap, Tevishi) and three spiritual (Ruvan, Baodangh and Fravashi). All these nine parts have to be returned to Ahura Mazda in a specific way. The physical parts are taken care of by sunlight and the birds. The ultra-physical bodies are taken care of by the spiritual circuits (Pavi, Talesum) of the Dakhma, which are created when the Dakhma Tana ceremony is performed. The spiritual bodies are returned to the Creator through the agency of the three days’ prayers in honour of Sarosh Yazad. Thus the Zoroastrian religion takes a holistic view of the body. We cannot take one part and graft it in another. All the parts have to be returned using a specific roadmap.

Let us now come to the long standing traditions and precepts of the community. It is a well-known fact that in case any part of the human body is amputated or severed, it is never thrown away but is always consigned to the Dakhma, after performing the Geh Sarna ritual. Even today, there are several instances where amputated legs or arms are being consigned to the Dakhma in this manner. This long standing tradition shows that the Zoroastrian religion considers every part of the body as sacred and belonging to Ahura Mazda, and therefore necessary to return to the Creator through the designated manner.

Another tradition in the community is our extreme aversion to post-mortems, since the process involves taking out of various organs as well as a general destruction of the inner body parts. Readers may recall the sterling services of the late Dervish Irani as well as BPP trustee late Rustam Tirandaz who would immediately go wherever a suspicious Parsi death was noticed and try their maximum best to avoid the post-mortem, except in cases where something criminal was involved.

As soon as death occurs, the human body starts decomposing. This physical decomposition is accompanied by a spiritual contagion called Druj Nasu – the demon of (spiritual) pollution. The Zoroastrian religion enjoins, and tradition is very strict, that the Sachkar ceremony, which creates a spiritual protective rink around the physical body and limits the spread of the spiritual contagion, should be performed as soon as, and preferably in the same Gah as the person’s demise. Once the Sachkar ceremony is performed, none except the Nassehsalars can touch the body. Thus to take a physical organ out of a dead body, which is now categorized as Nasu, and to fit it in another, live body, causes spiritual havoc.

In Dasturji’s own 9 family Anjuman there are a few customs and traditions which go against the concept of organ donation. Even today, the priests of the 9 families who tend the sacred Iranshah cannot undertake this onerous responsibility if their body contains any foreign object. This includes dental fillings and implants, metal screws, plates and prosthetics used in orthopaedic surgery, corneal implants and of course, transplanted organs. If Dasturji Khurshed welcomes organ donation then should the rules relating to Mobed Sahebs tending the Iranshah Fire also be relaxed?

The Udvada Anjuman also has strict rules regarding what type of bodies can be consigned to the Dakhmas in their jurisdiction. About 15 years ago, a Parsi of a very orthodox family residing in North America passed away there. It was his desire that his body should be consigned to the Dakhma at Udvada. All arrangements were made and the body reached Mumbai airport. Before it could be shifted to Udvada, certain Priests of the Udvada Anjuman raised objections on spiritual grounds. Because the body had been embalmed abroad, and the internal organs removed, and also because nearly ten days had passed from the day of death to the arrival of the body in Mumbai, the Priests considered the body as ‘Riman’ – spiritually unclean and refused to allow the body to be consigned to the Dakhma at Udvada. Despite many requests and phone calls from influential persons, the Priests did not relent. Ultimately, the body was consigned to the Dakhma at Mumbai.

Dasturji Khurshed may be unaware of this incident as it took place before he inherited his family’s Dasturi ‘Gaadi’. But given the Udvada 9 families Anjuman’s rules regarding Riman bodies, is Dasturji Khurshed correct in exhorting Parsis to consider organ donation? Will his Anjuman allow bodies of Parsis who have accepted organ transplants to be consigned to the Dakhma at Udvada?

I am very happy to see that Dasturji Khurshed is a man easily affected by his emotions. His heart is in the right place. As a human, these are sterling qualities. But when one assumes the position of Dastur, then one cannot let one’s emotions rule his judgement. The position of the Dastur is very senior and has spiritual ramifications. Even today, no priest can undergo the sacred Bareshnum Nahn, which is the foundation of all Zoroastrian rituals, without taking the name of the current Dastur and holding him as witness and as a descendant of the Prophet Zarathushtra. As such, a Dastur has to rule, in matters of religion, from what the scriptures direct, not under the influence of emotions or pulling of heartstrings.

Being a Dastur is not a popularity contest, it is a crown of thorns to be worn with dignity, humility and extreme piety. At times, despite overwhelming public opinion, the Dastur has to state what is given in the scriptures and what is mandated by our long-standing traditions, not by what current whims and fancies are prevalent. In this respect I would humbly request Dasturji Khurshed to follow the example of Pope Francis, who despite incredible pressure from the LGBT movement, has stood firm in his ruling that the Church considers marriage only between a man and a woman and does not grant that privilege to same-sex unions.

The world we live in is full of seeming inequality. Why is a child born blind, or crippled or horribly malformed? Why do certain individuals enjoy life despite living a far from righteous existence while those who try to follow the true path are often harassed and defeated? These inequalities seem so because of our limited vision. Our vision is limited to one life of 70-90 years. We have no remembrance of our past lives and no idea of our future. But the Zoroastrian religion believes in the law of action and rightful reaction – akem akai vanghuhim ashim vanghove – good to the good, evil for the evil doer. But Nature’s timeline for giving the just retribution for a sin much exceeds one human life span. Hence the perfectly just Divine Organization comes across as iniquitous and unfair to our limited human vision.

It is for this reason that Prophet Zarathushtra asked Ahura Mazda in the Gathas – ‘Tat thwa peresa, eresh moi vaocha Ahura’ – this do I ask Thee, O Ahura, give me the True Answer.’ The point is not that Zarathushtra expected Ahura Mazda to lie to Him, but Zarathushtra asked for a vision which goes beyond the limited human vision – He asks Ahura Mazda to reveal to Him the Reality – not the apparent reality which we see with our limited eyesight. Thus Dasturji Khurshed was correctly moved while performing the Navjote of a visually impaired child. But when Dasturji’s vision expands to be able to grasp the Universal Truth and Reality, he will also understand God’s reasons for the way things are as they appear.

What is the meaning of the word ‘Dastur‘? It means one who holds the hand (‘dast’) of the faithful and leads them towards God. But in making the provocative statements on Sanjan Day, Dasturji Khurshed has committed a grievous error and is leading the faithful towards eternal damnation. It would be only right if Dasturji Khurshed reconsiders his views, consults the elders of his Anjuman and sets the record straight that the Zoroastrian religion does not encourage organ donation. In doing so, he would prove his spiritual stature and make the community look up to him.

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram




  1. john doe  November 30, 2014

    what to do? My son recd two Organ transplant he is perfect now. I am at end of my teethers, do I defile the earth and fire or donate to medical research the full body, there also they make some nakhra . How does fire or earth deals with the spiritual part.

  2. S Bharucha  November 30, 2014

    Our religion is thousands of years old when blood transfusions and organ donations were never imagined, so it is time for the religion to evolve with the times we live in. How many seriously ill Parsis requiring urgent blood would care to ask about the religion, caste and creed of the donor? The donation is gratefully accepted – never mind the mingling of blood! Again a Parsee in dire need of an organ would not ask for the history of the donor – it would be gratefully accepted as was by a Parsi patient who received a heart in Chennai earlier this year. Let’s not be hypocrites citing the scriptures at our convenience. If we can accept donated organs, we should also be ready to donate our organs also. These are modern times so let us get on with life instead of meaningless debate!

  3. amy hormazdiyar turel  November 30, 2014

    Hats off to you….ERWAD HATHIRAM……….i am really happy the way you have replied to the Jame front page heading……hope this article is printed in the Jame

  4. Aspy Minoo Khan  November 30, 2014

    Ervad Marzban,

    Thank you for the clarification, once again, for the uninitiated.

  5. Jehan  November 30, 2014

    Dear ERWAD HATHIRAM Great reply…

    @ S Bharucha – The Troubles one goes through is his or hers own doings (knowingly or unknowingly) so as a true Parsee one must not accept any organs as we do not donate, as for donating blood please go through the article

  6. Hanoz M Mistry  November 30, 2014

    Great response Ervad Hathiram! The bottom line is that spiritual truths and divine functioning of nature must triumph over three dimensional human intellect and emotions.

  7. Behram P. Dhabhar  November 30, 2014

    I am anxious to know the response from Dastur Khurshed Dastoor to this article.

  8. Rustom Irani  December 1, 2014

    An excellent article on the subject of organ donation very succintly explaining the Zoroastrian scriptures and traditions followed by our forefathers for centuries. I earnestly request and beseech the Vada Dasturji Saheb to come out early with his clarifications after consulting the Anjuman so that the Parsis/Iranis are not misled to a spiritual doom. THANK YOU VERY MUCH ERVAD MARZBAN FOR OPENING THE EYES OF OUR TINY COMMUNITY.

  9. john doe  December 2, 2014

    from john doe, again my son was not ahead in line for organ donation but as AHURA MAZDA must have wanted it he had a perfect match from the deceased(accidented) person and he was saved. To have kidney and pancreas done at the same time was Karamet-a-Khuda(miracle). U are in India and others are in Americas etc. I fully accept the spiritual side truths

  10. hushangdehqan  December 6, 2014

    Zoroastrian Priests and Anjumans should make it very clear that organ donation is not prescribed in Zoroastrian scriptures.

    However, I am doubtful if your advice based on Zoroastrian Scriptures will have any effect, since the Parsi community even does not follow the basic tenents of this great religion, they are (the majority ultra reformists and rich individuals) for the past 100 years following something not at all akin to Zoroastrianism which in turn greatly damaged the community to such an extent that it will face extinction in recent future.

  11. john doe  December 7, 2014

    pl. explain what is to be done. The most sacred of our religion is ATASH. HOLY FIRE ,HOLY SOIL, HOLY WATER . If I am right Ahura Mazda created fire soil air water first, to defile any of these is more BAD than organ donation. No priest from foreign countries are debating this topic, Either another person benefits and that he will be more towards Ahura Mazda. He will say First, AHURA MAZDA thank you and then thanks the medical team

  12. Zubin Zack  December 7, 2014

    What I appreciate is the way things are explained. Hilarious part about some other people who are not educated about our religion is that they make comments on what they ” feel ” is correct. Just because they ” feel ” organ donation is correct does not make it correct. When we need medical advice we go to the doctor or for education we send our kids to school. But in this case some people just express their opinion without facts and want to be experts!. Here whatever Er. Hathiram mentions is as per our religion and am sure there are facts and logic on what is told to us…so if you believe in our religion then why challenge the same.The only thing he has mentioned is Datur Dastoor should clarify if he mentioned what his personal feeling was or was he promoting that this is what is the correct thing to do as per religion and our teachings….so let him revert and why make a debate of this till then!) Everything explained by Er. Hathiram is on behalf of what the religion says and nothing do with what is his or someone’s personal feeling is. I agree that even I though I am aware of what is right may still do wrong if it comes to my loved one as I conveniently will put the current life and situation in front of me and will let my emotion super-seed versus to a “may be” larger reason on why someone may be suffering. I would choose immediate gratification to the problem I see and know rather than a belief which I may not have guts to convert into faith. So like mentioned in today’s Jame…do what you want…each one to his own… Just because you don’t believe in gravity will not make the principle of gravity disappear….If you jump from the 4th floor you will go down to the ground…does not matter what you believe or ” feel”. So those who want to challenge gravity take a plunge and donate your organs…Anyway none of us will know till we die if this was the right thing to do. For now organ donation ” feels” the right thing to do…..but does not mean it may be the right thing to do as per our religion and in the ” larger ” reason we are on earth. Also for all those who are pushing for organ donation….have you donated your organs ? or just want to talk about it that is the right thing to do and have done NOTHING about it anyway…!

  13. Delnaz Taraporewala  December 7, 2014

    Thank you respected Ervad Saheb for an excellent article once again.

    This site is a boon for true Zarthoshtis.

    Ilm-e-Kshnoom knowledge is the true pristine divine knowledge which Ervad Saheb is giving us through his hard work and dedication and it is the ultimate truth as this knowledge has come directly from our Masters and Maghav Sahebs of Mt.Demavand Khoh in Iran….

    Some Din Dushman people think that they possess some radical new information and by writing against this beautiful knowledge and against Ervad Saheb, they will become famous and heroes, they are gladly mistaken.. In any case the chit of a paper that they write in is a damn reformist paper. Unfortunately such newspapers do the heinous crime of misguiding our future generations.

    Yes, we live in very troubled times where in some cases organ donation may take place and that’s due to the law of our past karma and keshash but it certainly does not negate the fact that organ donation is strictly prohibited and should be avoided at all costs….

    Once again Saheb thank you for a very enlightening article!

  14. Ervad Pervez Peshotan Patel, New York  December 10, 2014

    I was born in Udvada and belong to the “Nav Kutumb” (nine resident priestly families of Udvada who have been trusted the privilege and responsibility of serving Udvada Atash Behram), having gone through Navar, Maratab and Samel amals (ceremonies) and have been fortunate to have performed Udvada Atash Behram Padshah Saheb’s Buoy/Bui ceremony two times in my life.

    I have highest regard and respect for Ervad Marzban Hathiram’s vast knowledge of Ilm-e-Khshoom and his devotion and dedication towards the study of various inner liturgies of our religion. I have met with him in my last two visits to India and his recent visit to USA few months ago. For past several years he has spoken about and educated our community through his blog Frashogard as well as by his lectures on matters pertaining to our religion and has given his self-less service to our co-religionists by speaking sincerely and fearlessly. He knows what he talks about based upon his studies, beliefs and convictions. He is not a Ph.D. however, his views on religious matters are well respected and received by like-minded orthodox Zarthushtis.

    I have not read the front page article in Jame Jamshed, being away from Mumbai. His reply, however, is scholarly and convincing. Much before this controversy and Dasturji’s speech at Sanjan on the subject of organ donation, I have been really struggling myself with it. A well-intentioned close friend here who has been advocating organ donation in the United States has given me a form for donation of my organs after my death which has been sitting on my desk for a long while and in the absence of sufficient “religious” information, I have not taken any action on it yet.

    Having read Ervad Hathiram’s comments, I would like our Vada Dasturjis Khurshed Dastur as well as
    Dasturji Dr. Peshotan Mirza of Udvada as well as other Dasturjis and Head Priests give us their “religious” proclamation based upon our scriptures (not personal opinions and preferences) and enlighten Zarthushti community in India and abroad in this matter?

    Thank you.

  15. Aspy Khan  December 11, 2014

    Yes, Ervad Pervez that would be nice, actually it is the need of the hour.
    However, when have, if ever, our religious heads had a get together, in the last couple of decades, to debate upon &/or come to a common understanding/consensus ON ANY RELIGIOUS ISSUE under debate, & declare ‘THEIR OFFICIAL VIEW’ ???
    Can they ever leave their ‘Almighty’ EGOS aside & do so for the sake of the community?/
    When will they ever do so??
    What is it that is stopping them??
    Do they think it is a waste of their time??
    Is it with such disdain that they look upon the rest of the community/supposedly their flock??
    If they, the supposed ‘Pillars Of Faith’ cannot be there to guide the community, by giving their
    learned ruling/opinion on any/all disputable issues on an immediate basis, I cannot understand for the life of me, what they ‘carry’ these exalted titles—- VADAA DASTURJI etc; etc; or their very presence in our religion.
    The whole community awaits with abated breath, their (common arrived at) views that is.
    It is this very lack of correct & timely guidance on each & every issue that is tearing the very fabric of our religion/community/ethos/thought processes.
    The basis of faith must be refreshed from time to time, doubts erased, community enlightened on various topics.
    The only one who takes an active part in this without fear or favour is Ervad Marzban Hathiram.

  16. Dilnek  December 25, 2014

    Respected Ervad Saheb
    Can you please let me know if there has been a miscarriage within 2.5 months should the to be mother be abandoned in the home in a room and not touch anything and should there be nahn conducted for her once she is clear or should it be after forty days and if she touches somewhere in the house how should the house be purified?

    Can you put an article on this on the website as many peoples doubts can get cleared this way?

  17. Farokh U  October 25, 2015

    Dear Marazban Saheb,
    After reading plenty of your articles and seeing your videos i have a few questions which come to my mind will be awaiting your reply.

    1. Is Surrogacy & Test Tube baby the same as organ donation?

    2 . IS Surrogacy permissible as per both Zoroastrians?

    3. Is Test Tube baby permissible as per both Zoroastrians?

    4 Out from topic but a ques regarding abnormal deaths video . If a person looses a finger or hand or any part of the body his geh sarnu should it be done ? if yes do we also have to perform the remaining full 4 days ceremonies as well?even if he is alive?

    5. In your article death and beyond following things arent mentioned as mentioned in video.
    a). Regarding roj palvani kriya which many mobeds are unaware of? isnt written anywhere where can i find this reference elsewhere as a priest told me to show and isnt mentioned in death and beyond too.

    b.) Repeating full 4 days ceremony again if body is coming from abroad. In Death and beyond its only mentioned about gehsarnu to be done only and not the remaining days.

    c) If an accident or murder happens and body is in post mortem does one have to start the ceremonies without body and if body is received on 5th or 7th day do we have to again repeat the 4day ceremonies ?or wait till the body arrives from postmortem.

    Kindly Guide me on my doubts which arise in my mind.
    Thank You .

  18. Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram  October 25, 2015

    1. Same in the sense of playing God
    2. No
    3. No
    4. Yes only Geh Sarna. Nothing else
    5a. Just because some one is not aware doesn’t mean it’s not there! The reference is Ustad Saheb. Not necessary that everything that is said has to be written.
    b. Yes
    c. Preferably yes