Hinduism supports organ donation

Usha Chadda, fifty-seven year old accounts clerk of Mississauga, was diagnosed of kidney failure in1988. She had to go for dialysis every other day, while waiting for a kidney transplant. After three years of misery and hopelessness, a perfect kidney match was found. With the kidney transplant, eventually, Usha’s life was back on track, thanks to an organ donor, an 18-year old young man who was killed in a car accident. His generosity and sense of service to humanity gave her a new lease on life.

Not many Canadians are as lucky as Usha. According to Health Canada [Tissue and Organ-information website], about 150 Canadians die every year while waiting for organ transplant. More than 3700 Canadians are on the waiting list, but no more than 450 Canadians (less than 15 per million) offer this precious gift of life to others by signing the backside of their driver’s license. The situation is desperate. Lack of public awareness seems to be the major obstacle in solving this acute problem.

A study conducted in 2002, jointly by the Johns Hopkins School of medicines and Bloomberg school of Public Health in the US, confirmed that religious misconceptions were one of the major reasons why more people, particularly minorities, do not become blood or organ donors. It concludes that no other field of medicine has raised so many spiritual, moral and ethical issues as organ transplant. This prompted me to find the Hindu viewpoint on this contemporary important issue.

After browsing some websites sponsored by health organizations, I discovered that Hinduism, like other religions, offered no direct reference to this issue, but the views expressed by various Hindu community leaders support organ donation.

According to the Hindu Temple Society of North America, “Hindus are not prohibited by religious law from donating their organs. This act is an individual’s decision.” Dr. Madhu Sahasrabudhe, the founder of the Hindu Temple of Ottawa-Carlton concurs, “Organ donation is an individual decision…Donation of tissue or organs to save a life takes precedence over the requirement that the dead should be cremated whole unmutilated from head to toe.”

Gyan Rajhans of Mississauga, the producer and Director of Bhajanawali, the only non-commercial weekly Hindu Radio program in Canada, states, “Hindus’ sacred literature has stories of human organ transplant, particularly of eyes. At the time of death, the departure of the Atman or the Soul, the human body is of little significance, as the true identity of a person or Self is the Atman, not his body, name, nationality or religion. If the organs harvested from a dead body can save human lives, the best creation of God, so be it.”

C.P. Gupta, president and volunteer priest of the Mississauga Arya Samaj (a reform movement in Hinduism) also interfaces the organ transplant issue with Hindu beliefs and practices, “Human body is a blessing from God Almighty to the Atman or soul, and is achieved as a result of our own good and virtuous Karmas or deeds during our previous life spans. It is important to protect the body. Nevertheless, Yajna or giving or sacrificing for others, is the highest injunction of the Vedas [Hindus’ primary scriptures]. If someone wishes to bequeath the whole or parts of his or her body for the benefit of humanity, that is Yajna in true sense.”

Despite this very positive enlightening Hindu perspective, organ donation by Hindus in Canada is unheard of. Dr. Pravin Bansal, a family physician in Brampton, has many South Asian patients, but cannot recall any one of them ever raising this issue with him. Some mainstream patients did inform him of their decision to donate their organs, but only after signing the backside of their driver’s license.

Spiritual and faith communities, including Hindus, in Canada Can yield a good harvest of organs to save more human lives, if religious and moral misconceptions can be removed by focusing the public awareness campaign on mosques, churches and temples in collaboration with their leaders.