12/01/2015 04:30 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2016

Ganesh and Daksha: Paradigms for Xenotransplants?

It is not uncommon to hear that the myths of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, and of Daksha, the goat-headed god found in the Hindus Puranas, are Hindu endorsements of xeno-transplantation.

These two accounts about xenografts, however, were and are not prescriptions for the ways that humans ought to behave, for Hindu bioethics.

Here is a the basic story of Ganesh:

One day, the Himalayan goddess Parvati desired a son. She rubbed her skin and from the dirt and oil created, she molded the body of a young boy and gave him life. Desiring to be alone, Parvati ordered her son Ganesh to prevent anyone from entering her house. Parvati's husband Shiva arrived and was not permitted to enter his own home by the young boy. A battle ensued, Ganesh was decapitated, and Shiva was able to enter his house. Parvati was livid. In order to appease his furious wife, Shiva cut off the head of an elephant, grafted it to the body of his decapitated son, and gave him life.

The decapitation and subsequent xeno-transplantation thus derives from homicide and not from medical necessity.

The basic story of Daksha also involves an angered Shiva:

Daksha insulted his daughter Sati and his son-in-law Shiva by not inviting Shiva to a sacrifice. Sati was so saddened that she through herself into a fire. Shiva, outraged, destroyed Daksha's sacrifice by shooting an arrow into it. Shiva later married Uma (Parvati), who was merely Sati's second birth. Daksha again offended Shiva. Shiva then decapitated Daksha and threw the head into the sacrificial fire. The head was replaced by Shiva with that of the goat that was being offered into the sacrifice.

Again the decapitation and ensuing xenograft is the result of a fight between the father-in-law and his son-in-law, not the result of a pressing medical necessity.

If one contextualizes both accounts, both are far from ideal. Daksha, after all, is given the head of a sacrificial goat, not the most auspicious of changes. Both accounts are about Shiva's anger towards close family members, and homicides that he commits. They are not about altruism, bioethical obligations, or medical challenges. These two myths about gods and goddesses in Hinduism are thus not to be taken as ideals or prescriptions for humans, unless, of course, one embraces an ethics that allows fathers to kill and then resuscitate their sons and fathers-in-law! Though they might flag ethical or theological concerns for discussion (i.e. does karma transfer with the organ?), they are not ethical, and certainly not Hindu bioethical, imperatives.

If one contextualizes the most well known stories of xenografts from the Puranas, namely of Ganesha and Daksha, then neither would be included as good evidence that Hinduism endorses xeno-transplantation (though perhaps one could draw from this that xenografts are permissible if fathers kill their sons or their father-in-laws!).

This conclusion, of course, is absurd.