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Death & Dying Ethics in Christianity and Buddhism


Suffering from a disease is a challenge for anyone, but knowing that one’s condition is incurable is an entirely different experience. Frequently, people who know that their health will never be restored, decide to perform euthanasia and not be a burden for their caregivers. George, the person from the case study, is considering such an option. The paper will discuss the attitude toward the deliberate ending of life from the viewpoint of Christianity and Buddhism.

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The Worldview of Christianity and Buddhism

Prime Reality

In Christianity, prime reality is manifested through the infinite and transcendent God who is known to every human and who created the universe. Christians believe that God is the triune Being that is the source of morality (Rasi, 2014). God is omniscient and creatively active, and humans are afraid to disobey His commandments. In Buddhism, the definition of ultimate reality is more complicated. People belonging to this religion consider that prime reality is the endless existence (Komarovski, 2015). However, this existence is dynamic and changeful, and it is not permanent.

The Nature of the World

According to Christian beliefs, the world was created by God. The creation became possible with the help of His word, and He uses it to operate with consistency and harmony (Rasi, 2014). Also, Christians believe that there is a system of cause and effect in the universe. There is some similarity of views between Christianity and Buddhism in that the latter consider that the world is everything that is not created or organized by the man (Komarovski, 2015). The most permanent feature of nature, according to Buddhists, is its changeability.

A Human Being

In Christianity, human beings are understood as physical and spiritual creatures made in God’s image (Rasi, 2014). Human beings are regarded to have the capability of making free moral decisions. At present, Christianity views human beings in the fallen state (Rasi, 2014). In Buddhism, a human being is a creature that strives to reach enlightenment (Komarovski, 2015). Buddhists believe that human beings can experience different states of consciousness.

What Happens at Death

The common Christian belief of what happens when a person dies is that they stop their physical existence but continue to live spiritually. Depending on their deeds during life, people can go to heaven (if they were good during life) or hell (if they did many bad things) (Rasi, 2014). In Buddhism, however, death is not viewed as the end of life (Komarovski, 2015). Buddhists believe that one is reincarnated after death, that is, the spirit of the dead person finds another body and starts another life. Depending on one’s moral behavior during life, the reincarnation is manifested in either a good or bad body.

The Possibility of Knowing Something

In Christianity, the question of knowledge is inseparable from the existence of God. Christians believe that they can know something because God revealed it to them (Rosi, 2014). The reliability of truth is manifested through the absoluteness of God. In Buddhism, knowledge is regarded as an illusion since Buddhists believe that the ultimate manifestation of reality is abstract (Komarovski, 2015). According to Buddhists, things are not what they appear to be, and it is not possible to know anything for sure.

The Right and Wrong

The question of what is right and what is wrong is viewed by Christians in relation obeying God’s moral principles. If one rebels God’s commandments, he or she sins, and that is considered wrong (Rasi, 2014). On the contrary, the person does right when he or she follows the moral rules set by God. In order to save one’s soul, the person needs to repent and ask for forgiveness. In Buddhism, the universe is viewed as perfect at any given moment (Komarovski, 2015). Thus, it is practically impossible to discern the right and wrong. However, there is a process by which the cosmos is regulated, and if one does not follow that process, he or she will have bad karma. Karma is the Buddhist law of cause and effect, and it presupposes that all deeds of a person will havinfluence their future.

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The Meaning of Human History

In Christianity, history is viewed as a meaningful order of events that is governed by free human decisions but, at the same time, is supervised by God (Rasi, 2014). The essence of human history is, therefore, the movement towards the realization of God’s plan. In Buddhism, history and time are regarded as illusionary concepts (Komarovski, 2015). The cosmos is eternal, so anything that a person perceives is merely another cyclical shift of reality. Therefore, Buddhists view history as a meaningless concept existing in cosmos.

Ethical Analysis of the Case from the Perspectives of Christianity and Buddhism

Both of the religions have an interpretation of why George is ill beyond the reality of physical malady. In Buddhism, suffering is the foundational concept, so the disease may be viewed as the means of getting closer to the endless existence, which is the prime reality in this religion. In Christianity, the explanation of George’s malady may be associated with some bad deeds that he committed in the past.

It he has done something immoral and did not repent, it is logical that he was punished by God for his sin. Another possible explanation from the Christian point of view may be that George was given an opportunity to tone for some misdoing. Finally, Christians also believe that if one suffers during life, he or she will have a better position after death. So, George’s malady may be viewed as the promise of heaven after death.

Each of the analyzed religions views a person’s life as something valuable. In Buddhism, it is so because humans are inseparable elements of cosmos, and every person plays some function in the course of the universe’s existence (Komarovski, 2015). In Christianity, the value of George’s life as a person is estimated as high because any life is given by God, and this is the most precious gift of all. Thus, whether George is healthy or ill with ALS, his life is considered as worthwhile in both religions.

In Buddhism, the values and consideration on which George’s decision should be based are focused on the religion’s attitude toward suffering. Since physical suffering is not regarded as something unusual, Buddhists tend to defend the right to live under any circumstances (Barleyman, 2017). When one decides to opt for euthanasia, it is viewed as a weakness of the mind. If George allows his physical pain to cause mental pain, it means that he is not in a good state spiritually.

Moreover, assisting someone to commit suicide is also deemed a bad deed by Buddhists since they believe that the person helping another one to die will upset their karma. In Christianity, the major consideration on which George’s decision should be focused is the belief that life is a gift from God (Steffen, 2017). If a person decides to kill oneself, it is viewed as the rejection of God’s gift, which will lead to suffering after death.

Given the above, the only possible morally justified option under each religion would be not choosing euthanasia. From the Christian viewpoint, staying alive will mean that George has not rejected or thrown away the most precious gift that God gave to him. Staying alive will inevitably lead to suffering, and George’s family will be obliged to adjust to the new symptoms when the illness progresses.

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However, such a decision will be morally accepted by the Christian religion. Buddhism would also justify the refusal from euthanasia, although the motive of this religion would be different. Buddhists consider suffering as the possibility to improve one’s karma, and they view suicide as the ultimate way of upsetting karma. Therefore, the morally justified option under Buddhism would be not opting for euthanasia.

My own view is governed by the concepts of Christianity, so I think that George should not perform euthanasia. Killing oneself deliberately, no matter what the reason is, would be morally wrong. Moreover, during the years when George’s condition is still not deteriorated, scientists might come up with a cure. I think that his family would not forgive themselves if they realized that their beloved one could have stayed alive, but they supported his desire to die.


Euthanasia is called a mercy killing, but the mercifulness only refers to a person’s physical state, and not to spiritual condition. Christianity and Buddhism are some of the most popular world religions, and they have many dissimilarities. However, both of these doctrines disapprove of deliberate ending of one’s life. The patient from the case study would violate the concepts of both Buddhism and Christianity if he opted for euthanasia.


Barleyman, B. (2017). Suffering, compassion, and freedom: Mahāyāna Buddhism and East Asian attitudes toward assisted suicide and euthanasia. In M. J. Cholbi (Ed.), Euthanasia and assisted suicide: Global views on choosing to end life (pp. 71-94). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

Komarovski, Y. (2015). Tibetan Buddhism and mystical experience. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Rasi, H. M. (2014). Worldviews, contemporary cultures, and Adventist thought. In W. Shipton, E. Coetzee, & R. Takeuchi (Eds.), Worldviews and Christian education: Appreciating the cultural outlook of Asia-Pacific people (pp. 84-95). Singapore: Partridge Publishing.

Steffen, L. (2017). Christian perspectives on assisted dying: An issue for religious ethics. In M. J. Cholbi (Ed.), Euthanasia and assisted suicide: Global views on choosing to end life (pp. 121-144). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

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