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Case Study on Death and Dying

Introduction

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a serious and practically incurable disease. George understands that. He knows that what awaits him is inevitable and has to make a decision that will ease his suffering and lift a burden from his family. Euthanasia provides a swift and painless way out. However, such choice is often prohibited by religion to the point that a person is cast away from the church and denied a peaceful afterlife. Different religions have different outlooks on life, diseases, and end-of-life decisions. George’s case will be analyzed from the ethical perspective of Christianity and Shintoism.

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Views and Values of Christianity and Shintoism

Faith offers a set paradigm for decision-making and a universal scale of their evaluation. In most religions, human deeds tend to accumulate and influence the options the person will have after his earthly path will end. Therefore, all decisions in life need to be based on the ethical code the religion is offering. In Christianity, this code is dictated by God who is also a prime reality (Shelly & Miller, 2006). God knows and sees all, the world is his creation, and it lives by his rules. Shintoism holds Kami as a prime reality (Underwood, 2013). The word ‘Kami’ has several meanings including ‘god,’ ‘spirit,’ and ‘spiritual energy.’ Japanese people have a saying that can be translated as ‘a myriad of Kami,’ which means that Kami is a part of everything: rocks, water, sky, humans, all animate and inanimate.

The nature of the world around us in Christianity is explained through God. He created the sun, the stars, and the earth out of nothing. Natural order and its laws are God’s creation, and all creatures that live in the world abide by his command. All that is happening in it is the result of God’s will. In Shintoism, the creation of the world was a natural process. Our universe has emerged from the disorganized chaos that was a mixture of disordered particles. It has then divided into two parts: the Plain of High Heaven and the Dragonfly Island giving birth to the first Kami. Those Kami created the earth.

Human in Christianity is God’s creature like all the other living beings on the earth. Humans have greater powers than animals, but they are limited and subject to the laws of God. Shintoism defines humans as a part of nature, with which they are to live in unity. It is noteworthy that the ancient theological writings did not distinguish Kami from humans and there were no myths about the creation of the latter. Shintoists believe that all human actions are seen and influenced by Kami that inhabit the world. In addition, there are no direct laws to abide by.

According to the Christian doctrine, after death human soul goes to either hell or heaven. God sees and measures all the deeds of the people on earth. Judging on the balance of the right and wrong they did during their lives, they will be awarded residence in heaven at God’s side enjoying the pleasures of paradise or condemned to eternal sufferings in hell. In Shintoism, humans after death go to an underworld called Yomi. The spiritual energy of the deceased continues to reside unseen in the real world joining the pantheon of Kami.

The possibility of cognition in Christianity is given to humans by God who differentiated them from other creations and designed them in his own image. Shintoist doctrine divides the human cognitive possibilities into organs of physical perception and mental sensing. The latter allows feeling the presence of Kami of the dead and Kami of nature. Understanding Kami and the laws of nature to live in accord with them is believed to be a valuable trait.

The right and wrong in Christianity are tightly associated with notions of sin and virtue. The doctrine includes a comprehensive description of sins and virtues teaching men and women what life they should live to earn a place in heaven. The Bible contains stories of saints’ lives illustrating ideal God’s servants. Shintoist teachings do not provide a strong moral code by which every believer should live. Humans themselves define the rightness and wrongness of each particular action from the perspective of its harm or benefit to nature and community. However, to be able to judge the deeds people need to be in accord with nature and themselves.

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Christian faith views human history as a period after the first humans, Adam and Eve, were banished from Eden to earth for the sins they have committed. The current history of people will end with the Second Advent when Jesus will come to earth to judge every living person, raise the dead, and take all of them to paradise for eternal living. In Shintoism, humans seem to have no special role and their history is not focused on from any perspective. It offers no meaning of life and emphasizes living in harmony with nature and other people while pursuing one’s own happiness.

Religious Interpretation of George’s Malady and Suffering

Christians believe that all diseases that befall the human race are either a punishment for sins or a test from God. Thus, God evoked ten plagues on Egyptians for enslaving Israelites. Among them boiled among people and animals. It is also known that Lord tested his apostles to prove that their faith is sincere (Hebrews 11:17–19, The New King James Version). Despite the diseases were not part of those tests, virtually anything can be perceived as God’s trial. The suffering must be endured patiently and with no complaints as it is noble. Therefore, George is either tested by God to reveal his true commitment to faith or is punished for the sins he committed during his life.

From the Shintoist point of view, a disease is a misfortune but not a punishment. A disease may be caused by external factors like evil spirits who find dark thoughts in people’s minds and exploit them poisoning the human bodies. As a result, the body becomes impure and needs cleansing or healing. Thus, George’s malady may be a result of impurity induced by an evil Kami.

Value of George’s Life

Christian teachings state that all life is precious and ending it unnaturally is against God’s laws. Even with ALS, George is still God’s creation, and no one can take his life except for the maker. The Shinto beliefs consider death a natural consequence of life when the body becomes one with nature giving life to other organisms, which is an ordinary process. The value of every human life is universal despite his actions and the lifestyle he leads. Kami will take even the impure body with disease and nature will cleanse it.

Euthanasia Considerations from the Perspective of Faith

According to Christian beliefs, no person has the authority to take a life, even if the life in question is a person’s own. Taking your own life is considered suicide, which is a mortal sin. Only God can decide if a person shall live or die. Therefore, euthanasia in all its forms is prohibited. However, Brennan (2013) argues that withdrawal from life-sustaining treatment is not considered suicide or a sin. Though Shinto beliefs do not contain notions of karma or sin and every action is judged by the person’s own moral code, he or she still has to consider the natural order. Moreover, the latter does not suppose a premature ending of life.

On the other hand, suffering can disturb the harmony and cause damage and moral suffering to George’s loved ones. From this point of view, the act of euthanasia can be considered a benefit to the community, as it would contribute to the mental wellbeing of his family and friends. Above that, according to the survey results, 68% of Japanese company workers who practice Shintoism approved euthanasia in cases with terminal illnesses (Tanida, 2000).

Justified Options for George from the Religious Viewpoint

From the standpoint of Christian faith, one of the morally justifiable options in George’s case will be to continue his treatment. That way he will be able to lead a decent life contributing to a community and raising his son, transferring his wisdom to him in that little time he has left. Another choice for him would be to compose a health care directive with an instruction to stop the life support after he can no longer fulfill his daily functions by himself including breathing and eating. It would be justifiable due to the fact that ALS will end his life naturally or, in other words, as God intended. Prolonging George’s life with lung ventilation systems could mean that people are trying to interfere with God’s work.

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From the Shintoist point of view, virtually any decision can be justified as George’s choice will not disturb the natural balance and will not bring unhealthy consequences to the community. Letting the disease progress and end his life in due time would seem like a suitable option because it underlines the non-interference in the natural sequence of life and death. However, the slow and unpleasant progress of ALS could bring suffering to his friends and relatives, which could be considered a tsumi, socially unacceptable deed. Ending his life willingly while staying in control of his thoughts and actions, saying proper goodbyes, and passing to the afterlife without suffering would also be a valid choice. Adequate perception of reality and personal place in the world, which are valued and pursued in Shintoism, allow George to weigh his decision and choose a path that will bring the least inconvenience to others.

Personal View

To my mind, opting for euthanasia in George’s case is the most reasonable decision. Firstly, ALS is a painful and unpleasant condition that will require others to assist you even with the simplest everyday needs of the human body. Since the disease will result in death with almost a hundred percent certainty, there is no reason to endure all the inconveniences. In addition, the loss of speech and motor functions, as George noted himself, will make him a prisoner in his own body. He will not be able to convey his thoughts anymore turning into a silent witness of his own end and suffering he causes to those close to him. Therefore, I believe he has every right to do it.

References

Brennan, F. (2013). Holistic palliative care approach – physical, spiritual, religious and psychological needs. Nephrology, 18(4). 243-316.

Shelly, J., & Miller, A. (2006). Called to care: A Christian worldview for nursing (2nd ed.). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Tanida, N. (2000). The view of religions toward euthanasia and extraordinary treatments in Japan. Journal of Religion and Health, 39(4), 339-354.

Underwood, A. (2013). Shintoism: The indigenous religion of Japan. Redditch, UK: Read Books Ltd.

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