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Death & Dying Ethics in Hinduism and Christianity

Introduction

Death and dying are essential notions in many belief systems. In some religions, death brings an end to a person’s existence, whereas, in others, the soul continues to exist in the afterlife. Hinduism and Christianity are among the most popular faiths in the world, although they vary greatly in terms of their key ideas and teachings. When applied to the case of death and dying, Hinduism and Christianity are expected to produce two drastically different perspectives. The present paper will seek to explain the worldviews expressed in these two religions and apply them to George’s case.

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The Worldview in Hinduism and Christianity

In Hinduism, the prime reality is called Brahman; it is a “non-dual pure consciousness, indivisible, incorporeal, infinite, and all-pervading” (Adiswarananda, n.d., para. 1). The nature of the world in Hinduism is unchanging because there is only one truth that does not change over the course of time. A human being is a spirit, or “the spark of God within the soul” (United Religions Initiative, 2018, para. 2). Thus, bodily death does not put an end to existence but creates an opportunity for reincarnation, the act of being born again in a different body. Knowledge in Hinduism is possible because there is only one truth, which is manifested in sacred texts.

To distinguish right from wrong, people must act by their dharma, which constitutes their duties and place in the social system (United Religions Initiative, 2018). Lastly, Hinduism teaches that human history is the collection of experiences in different past lives, and the knowledge learned from them is its meaning.

In Christianity, the prime reality is God, who is above the world and everything in it. The world around us has been created by God and can be changed at his will. A human being is a person made in the image of God. At death, a person’s soul continues to exist in Heaven or Hell, depending on the actions they committed before death. Knowledge in Christianity is possible because God is all-knowing and wise, and he shared the truth with the world through his son Jesus and the Bible. To know what is right and wrong, one must conform to God’s rules and apply knowledge from the Bible in their everyday life. The meaning of human history is to fulfill God’s given purpose and live a spiritual life on Earth.

The Nature of Disease and Suffering

In the Christian faith, disease and suffering have several important connotations that are relevant to George’s case. First of all, disease and suffering can be used as punishment for one’s sins. This might apply to George if he has been unethical in his previous life and work. Secondly, suffering might also represent a journey to truth and spirituality, similar to Jesus’ narrative (Fitzpatrick et al., 2016). Thus, the ALS might be part of God’s plan for George to fulfill his spiritual purpose. Lastly, disease and suffering can also be seen as experiences that bring people closer to God. It is not uncommon for people with serious or terminal illness to find consolation and peace in faith.

In Hinduism, there are also two different reasons for human disease and suffering. On the one hand, they may be caused by the mechanism of karma. In this case, illness is caused by people’s wrong actions in their previous lives (Fitzpatrick et al., 2016). Since people are often unable to remember the events from their past lives, it is critical for them to accept disease and suffering as a means of achieving redemption. On the other hand, malady can also be viewed as a test of faith (Fitzpatrick et al., 2016). In this case, George’s thoughts about his suffering and the actions that result from them will determine his soul’s progression after bodily death.

The Value of Life

In Christianity, life is perceived to be God’s sacred gift to human beings. Various aspects of one’s life on Earth can be viewed as gifts, and people are expected to be grateful to God for the opportunity to live their lives. Experiences such as relationships, spiritual practices, family life, and charitable work can be indeed rewarding. Thus the value of life extends beyond physical abilities, and George’s life with ALS has the same value as if he did not have this condition. Moreover, Christianity also perceives life as an opportunity to fulfill God’s plan on earth, and this opportunity extends to all people, regardless of their ability levels.

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Even with ALS, George can engage in spiritual practices and charitable work, thus fulfilling his sacred mission. From the Hindu perspective, the value of life is in the experiences that are part of it. Hence, the value of George’s life as a person is defined in terms of his positive and negative experiences, as well as his spiritual development. ALS, like all other diseases, is considered to be an essential experience that will aid George’s spiritual growth. Therefore, George’s life with ALS has the same value as before the diagnosis, if not more.

Euthanasia

Due to conceptual differences between the two religions, Christianity and Hinduism view euthanasia very differently. In Christianity, suicide in all its forms is condemned, and it is said that the souls of people who ended their life will arrive in Hell regardless of their past actions. The primary reason for this idea is that by refusing to continue living, a person rejects the ultimate gift of life, thus also rejecting God. The only option for George, in this case, is to live with ALS and attempt to find some consolation in his faith in order to connect with God.

In Hinduism, euthanasia is also frowned upon because it interferes with the soul’s progression to the next life. As a result, the karma of both the doctor and the patient will be damaged. Nevertheless, there are certain conditions under which Hinduism allows suicide by fasting, called Prayopavesa. A terminal illness that causes significant suffering and the loss of bodily function is considered to be among these conditions (Walton, 2017). In Prayopavesa, the process of dying is slow and natural, which enables the person to make peace with others around them and ensure a smooth progression to the next life. Although medical euthanasia is not an option for George based on Hindu beliefs, he could either choose to live with ALS or commit Prayopavesa.

Conclusion

All in all, Hinduism and Christianity offer different interpretations of George’s disease based on their core values and teachings. In my personal opinion, George should not consider euthanasia at this time. Firstly, he still has a chance to live without any symptoms or with minor impairment for the next few years. Secondly, even with ALS, George will have the opportunity to experience many pleasures in life. Euthanasia should be reserved as an option for the final stages of the disease when George’s bodily functions will be impaired so severely that his life will be a burden to him. However, until there is evidence of severe physical impairment, considering euthanasia would be wrong from both ethical and spiritual points of view.

References

Adiswarananda, S. (n.d.). Hinduism – The ultimate reality

Fitzpatrick, S. J., Kerridge, I. H., Jordens, C. F., Zoloth, L., Tollefsen, C., Tsomo, K. L.,… Sarma, D. (2016). Religious perspectives on human suffering: Implications for medicine and bioethics. Journal of Religion and Health, 55(1), 159-173.

United Religions Initiative. (2018). Hinduism: Basic beliefs

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Walton, B. (2017). Terminal illness – End of life fasting. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Death & Dying Ethics in Hinduism and Christianity." March 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/death-and-amp-dying-ethics-in-hinduism-and-christianity/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Death & Dying Ethics in Hinduism and Christianity." March 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/death-and-amp-dying-ethics-in-hinduism-and-christianity/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Death & Dying Ethics in Hinduism and Christianity'. 30 March.

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