The present study investigates the case of an attorney from Oregon named George who is in his fifties and has been recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). From the provided scenario one understands that the man fully realizes the seriousness of his disease and the outcomes it will lead in 3-5 years. While having no intention to be a burden for his family incapable of performing even basic everyday functions such as eating and breathing, George starts thinking of voluntary euthanasia.
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The purpose of the current research is to evaluate the man’s intentions from the perspective of the two worldviews: Christianity and Buddhism. The paper will provide exhaustive answers to the questions of how these two religions treat George’s malady and what their teachings about voluntary death are.
Christianity and Buddhism: Comparing Major Canons and Beliefs
Prime reality identifies what plays the highest importance in the life of a person, which principles an individual’s worldview is based on, and what moral values guide his/her existence. For Christians prime reality is infinite God revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
He is the reason for living, and the only foundation one may find; humanity and other life forms have been created by Him (Duckett, 2017). In Buddhism, however, god is treated as an impersonal being or energy surrounding all life. Buddhists believe that the world around humans appeared due to spontaneous processes and not due to creation (Cheng, 2017). In contrast to them, Christians are convinced that the nature of the world is tightly related to the presence of personal God and that the entire universe exists owing to His will.
Human beings are also treated differently in the two opposing worldviews. For Christians, humans are creatures that have been made in reflection of God to spread His word among populations and save more souls from eternal suffering. For Buddhists, a human being is a minor part of god, the one who unites all life forms in a single substance or force (Cheng, 2017). This union is usually achieved through meditation and total denial of worldly vanity.
Another aspect differentiating the two religions is the perception of death. Christianity pays close attention to the need of fulfilling God’s will as the only way to escape the eternal punishment, which is carried by sinners in the afterlife. Temporal sufferings that George encounters are viewed as the trial of his faith and worthiness of being taken to Heaven. In the meantime, Buddhism adheres to the idea of reincarnation: a person acquires a new chance when his/her life cycle ends. How successful/unsuccessful an individual will be, entirely depends on the behaviors and actions committed during the previous existence. If a person constantly took the steps of enlightenment, it would allow him/her to finally reach Nirvana after death.
Among the questions related to the origins of religions and the nature of life, the question of why it is possible to know anything at all is one of the most acute. Christians refer to the Bible embracing the concept of absolute truth, which comes from living, omniscient God (Duckett, 2017). In their turn, Buddhists rely on the principles of knowing the world through knowing oneself. The enlightenment one gains when uniting with universal energy provides an individual with answers to all questions that torment him/her at the moment.
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As for the interpretation of what is right or wrong, both Christians and Buddhists possess the ideas that defend similar principles. “Right” is acceptable because it corresponds to what God or a universal force want a human being to do. “Wrong” is forbidden because it counters the primary religious teachings. When guided by these two rules, a person can decide which actions are regarded as permissible and which are not.
With regards to the human history, Christians believe that people were created in strict accordance with God’s plan, which would be unveiled as the history fetched headway. Voluntary disobedience or cessation of one’s existence contradicts the given plan turning a person into a violator of His will and thus, leading to spiritual death (Doka & Morgan, 2016). The meaning of human history is to remind the humankind what the outcomes of a sin are (the example of Adam and Eve) and which lessons need to be learned. The similar idea is backed by Buddhism: the Buddha emphasized the need to recognize the impermanence of material things and wanted the future generations to adhere to these principles too (Cheng, 2017). The role of history is to help one to deeper understand the mentioned teachings.
Disease Interpretation in the Context of Christian Worldview
Christians would probably see the reason of George’s malady in his weak faith. Through suffering, God demonstrates people how insufficient they are and how perishable human body is. However, by prolonging one’s days on Earth, He grants a person a chance to confess and accept the Lord as his/her savior. George’s life is valuable for God, as He aims to save every soul encased in a body. Life with ALS cannot be treated as an obstacle in establishing proper relationships with the Almighty.
On the contrary, it arrives as the reminder of the need to turn to faith while it is still possible. Christianity stands against any attempts to end one’s existence bringing the values written in the Holy Scriptures: those who commit suicide do not inherit the kingdom of God (Duckett, 2017). Thus, the only option that Christians would justify is to leave results with God.
Malady Perception in the Context of Buddhist Worldview
By analogy with Christians, Buddhists would link the occurrence of George’s disease to the lack of spirituality. A malady occurs when vital energy grows weaker forcing a body to hurt. However, the same teaching states that happiness and suffering constantly interact within a life cycle (Cheng, 2017). In Buddhist worldview, life is a valuable gift and illness is not a reason to opt for its ending. George’s life with ALS can still be treated as the continuation of a living cycle, which should flow naturally without interruption to allow him to access Nirvana.
If a disease is untreatable, representatives of this religion admit the need to heal one’s mind thus, helping one to accept the inevitability of things. Buddhists emphasize the value of conscious living and want everyone with a life-threatening illness to prepare morally, but never advise anyone to go too early. The only option they can justify is to let the life cycle end by itself.
In my point of view, George’s decision to resort to euthanasia is erroneous. A person must struggle for every minute spent under the sun since it is the gift of God. The gentleman should use the time to be closer to his family and improve his spiritual order. Even though ALS diagnosis is confirmed, the man could still be surrounded by care and see his son grow for up to ten years longer.
Christianity and Buddhism have different concepts about living, dying, and the afterlife. However, with regards to voluntary death, they share the opinion that no life must be interrupted. The case study of George’s illness demonstrates that a person diagnosed with untreatable disease tends to make erroneous decisions about his/her further fate. It is, therefore, important to raise religious topics on a frequent basis to help one to realize the consequences of such actions.
Cheng, F. K. (2017). Buddhist insights into life and death: Overcoming death anxiety. Athens Journal of Social Sciences, 4(1), 67-87.
Doka, K. J., & Morgan, J. D. (2016). Death and spirituality. New York, NY: Routledge.
Duckett, S. (2017). Arguing in the public square: Christian voices against assisted dying in Victoria. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 30(2), 165-187.