The Agonizing Death of Dr. Mossadegh

Ebrahim Norouzi, MD
The Mossadegh Project | March 5, 2020                       

“The memory of his suffering and heartbreaking screams has never left me...”

Remembering Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh (born June 16, 1882, died March 5, 1967)

In December 1953, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, the 71-year-old ex-Premier of Iran, received the final verdict in military court which tried him for treason: three years of solitary imprisonment.

Mossadegh was released at the end of his prison term in 1956, and returned to his village of Ahmadabad, 60 miles west of Tehran. The following day, several hooligans gathered in front of his house and yelled insults against him. The incident was almost certainly a ploy by the government to bring in two dozen military personnel for his ‘protection’.

According to Mossadegh, after a coup d’état in Iraq, the authorities doubled the military unit assigned to him and barred him from leaving the confines of his house.1 From then on, he was only visited by his wife and close family members, mainly on Fridays for a few hours. During the intervals, however, Mossadegh suffered from intense loneliness which worsened considerably with the passing of his beloved wife in 1965.

Other than the isolation of permanent house arrest, Mossadegh had no major problem until mid-Autumn 1966, when he noticed swelling on the left side of his face and a painful “blister” on the roof of his mouth.

When Mossadegh’s physician son Gholam-Hossein learned of the problem, he arranged for Dr. Ismail Yazdi, a young Maxillofacial surgeon who was also trained as a pathologist, to visit his father in Ahmadabad.2

Upon meeting, Dr. Yazdi told Mossadegh that he once had the honor of meeting the Premier as a student representative. Mossadegh paused for a moment and then asked, “Doctor, when you saw me before, were you satisfied with your visit?”. When Dr. Yazdi replied in the affirmative, Mossadegh responded wryly, “Now I can safely open my mouth for examination”.3

Dr. Yazdi suspected a malignant tumor in the roof of his mouth and proceeded to biopsy the area under local anesthesia. As he was saying goodbye, he told Mossadegh that he hoped to return next week with good news about the biopsy result. Dr. Mossadegh replied:

“I hope it’s cancer...I’m tired of this loneliness and life.”4

Days later, Yazdi made the diagnosis of Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC), a rare malignancy of the paranasal sinuses.5 This was confirmed by Dr. Kamal Armin, a prominent professor of pathology at Tehran University.

According to Dr. Yazdi, when he informed Dr. Mossadegh of his cancer, to his surprise he showed no sign of distress. Mossadegh agreed to go to Tehran for a thorough evaluation, but to leave Ahmadabad required permission from the Shah himself. This was accomplished when Professor Yahya Adl, the famed surgeon and a close friend of the Shah, intervened in the matter. It was then that Mossadegh was taken to Tehran and admitted in Najmieh Hospital, a charity facility established by his mother years before.6

Former Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (1882-1967) in Ahmadabad Due to his advanced and highly aggressive tumor, the 84-year-old Mossadegh was not a candidate for surgery even if it was technically possible. With no prospect for a cure, the reasonable option for Mossadegh was to receive supportive care mainly consisting of pain management and nutritional support. Considering the slow rate of his tumor, he could have potentially lived like this for another year or so.

However, things took a turn at Najmieh Hospital when another surgeon proceeded to obtain a biopsy from Mossadegh’s sinus area, against Dr. Yazdi’s advice. Dr. Yazdi, who personally witnessed the painful procedure in the role of pathologist, later recalled “The memory of his suffering and heartbreaking screams has never left me.”7

According to Gholam-Hossein, no one was allowed to visit his father in the hospital, and he refused his children’s offers to fly him to Europe for treatment or to bring physicians from abroad. After being discharged, Mossadegh began receiving cobalt radiation therapy at Mehr Hospital under the care of Dr. Ahmad Farhad, a radiologist and one-time chancellor of Tehran University.8

Clearly the administration of high dose radiation therapy was ill-advised, as the tumor was resistant to radiation and the treatment was associated with painful inflammation of the mucosal lining of the mouth and throat. To counter this, Mossadegh received large doses of analgesics which caused him to vomit blood. He also developed enlarged lymph glands in his neck which caused such tremendous pain that he screamed in agony.9

Meanwhile Mossadegh wrote to a close friend saying “I am still not well and am suffering from the radiation which has worsened my condition. I have no choice but to obey the doctors and see what the will of God is for me.”10

Unfortunately, Mossadegh’s condition deteriorated further when he developed pneumonia and a life-threatening blood infection for which he was readmitted to Najmieh Hospital. Soon afterward he fell into a coma.

At dawn on March 5, 1967, Mossadegh passed away, primarily due to complications of his cancer therapy.


1 “AZADI”, Quarterly Review, Summer and Autumn 2001, p. 146, from a note written by Mossadegh in 1963 in response to a foreign correspondent
Mossadegh, A Political Biography (1986) by Farhad Diba, p. 192

2 Dr. Ismail Yazdi was also the brother of Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the interim government of Mehdi Bazargan following the 1979 revolution.

3 Interview with Dr. Ismail Yazdi (2015): [link] (Translated by Ebrahim Norouzi)

4 Interview with Dr. Ismail Yazdi (2015): [link] (Translated by Ebrahim Norouzi)

5 In general, Transitional Cell Carcinoma of sinuses are known to have poor prognosis due to a high rate of local recurrence even after the combination of surgery and radiotherapy.

6 In Company of My Father, Mossadegh, by Dr. Gholam-Hossein Mossadegh, pp. 152-53

7 Interview with Dr. Ismail Yazdi (2015): [link] (Translated by Ebrahim Norouzi)

8 Diba, p.194
Interview with Dr. Ismail Yazdi (2015): [link] (Translated by Ebrahim Norouzi)

9 Gholam-Hossein Mossadegh interview, Harvard University, Iranian Oral History Project, Paris, July 2, 1984 [link] (Translated by Ebrahim Norouzi)

10 Interview with Dr. Ismail Yazdi (2015): [link] (Translated by Ebrahim Norouzi)

Divvying Up the Loot: The Iran Oil Consortium Agreement of 1954
Divvying Up the Loot: The Iran Oil Consortium Agreement of 1954


Related links:

Mossadegh Slept Here: the Walter Reed Hospital connection

Memorializing Mossadegh—Fearlessly

State of Health of Former Prime Minister Mossadeq (1967 State Dept. Memorandum)

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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