In both the above cases either the deceased person’s immediate relative or the person himself made a compassionate and caring choice to donate the body/organs after their death and which became instrumental in bringing joy to many lives. Thus, it is important to highlight and be aware of the organ/tissue donation. Most organ and tissue donations occur after the donor has died, but some like kidney or part of a liver or lung and tissues can also be donated while the donor is still alive. It is not age-specific and right from an infant to an aged person i.e., anyone with healthy organs can pledge to donate. The immediate family members also have the authority to sign their deceased relative’s organs if approved by a medical practitioner. It is said that one deceased donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and can save/enhance more than 50 lives through tissue donation! Yet, a 2019 survey on ‘organ donation and its awareness’, by the Indian Express disclosed the distressing fact that there were over half a million deaths for the want of organs every year. The report also said that though India has the largest population in the world, the ratio of organ donation stands less than one per million populations compared to Spain’s which is at the top of the list with 50 per million populations. This implies that there is an extreme shortage of organs for the patients with end-stage organ failure and though the awareness has increased, the supply is nowhere close to the demand of organs needed to save precious lives which in turn implies that most people are not yet convinced enough to pledge their organs after their death due to whatever reasons.India is a country where service to humanity is praised even over service to divinity. “Manava Dharma” is supposed to be the highest order of Dharma. No prevailing religion would deny the importance of service to humanity. So, the intriguing question is, what could be the hindrances against such a noble cause of organ donation which can be considered synonymous to service to humanity. Jainism is the religion which rests on the foundation of compassion and hence exploring the Jaina perspective on organ donation should provide good insight.
It is interesting to know that there are two extreme beliefs on organ donation among practicing Jainas, one supporting the cause while the other opposing it.
All Jains unanimously believe that the soul is eternal, leaves the body at the time of death along with its Karmic and Tejas body and that the physical body is of little use to the soul. Jainas also believe in Karma Theory and according to which all souls accumulate and shed karmas (good/bad) in accordance with their deeds. So, the real debate amongst Jaina followers is about whether a donor’s soul would incur any karma in his/her succeeding lives due to deeds performed by the recipient.
There is a set of people who strongly deny the organ donation even after death unless an explicit verbal commitment of detachment and renunciation of the physical body from the soul has been performed [Vosiravu] and a detail study has been carried out to know the worthiness of receiver to whom organ would be transplanted. Jain Sadhviji Anantguna Maharaj Saheb explains this perspective providing an argument that if the above protocol is not followed, then receiver’s future deeds (good/bad) would also affect donor’s karmic bank and donor’s soul would have to settle this new account too which is not in his/her own control.
On the other hand, supporters of organ/body donation argue that practicing detachment from worldly pleasures is a core Jaina preaching. It is encouraged to remain detached from the physical body even during one’s lifetime. Decision to donate organs or body on the basis of compassion is a step in the right direction to detachment. Also, as the body and its organs are no longer linked to the departed soul, donating it to save another life would be the ideal thing to do. In addition, they note that there is nothing explicitly mentioned in the Jain spiritual texts to prevent community members from participating in cadaveric (posthumous) transplants. Hence, when a Jain willingly pledges to donate his/her body or organs after his/her death he/she is abiding to Jain teachings and practices. In fact, it would be considered an act of compassion and charity, incurring “punya” (merit).
In conclusion while some Jain acaryas/leaders/practitioners believe that Jainism prohibits organ donations, there is this other set of acaryas/leaders/practitioners that openly and wholeheartedly support this life-saving medical practice, including cadaveric transplants.
The spirit of Donation or ‘Dana’ is always upheld in Jainism and Compassion is the basic pillar on which the whole philosophy is built. So, in our opinion, there could be no better act of compassion, charity, and sense of fulfilment than pledging one’s organs and tissues to save another human life. One should make most out of such a wonderful opportunity. The sentence ‘Live and Let Live’ defines Jaina essence of mutualism; the act of organ donation is extending it further and adhering to ‘Live, Let Live and Continue to Live’.
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