Illness often leads to agony and prompts the search for the meaning of life as people try to understand the reasons behind their predicaments. At times, individuals use their religious convictions to interpret sickness. Ivtzan, Chan, Gardner, and Prashar (2013) posit, “Religious and spiritual beliefs provide possibilities of attributing meaning and answers to the existential questions that emerge because of disease and the possibility of death” (p. 919). Health professionals find it difficult to assist patients and their loved ones to understand the factors behind sickness. It becomes hard for them to convince patients and their relatives of anything that contravenes their religious and spiritual beliefs. Different religions have diverse beliefs about diseases. Christians believe that people get sick as a result of a bad relationship with God (Vermeer, 2014). On the other hand, Buddhists consider sickness as an inevitable part of life. This case study will analyze the concept of human life according to Christianity and Buddhism beliefs.
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Interpretation of George’s Illness
Christians may have numerous interpretations of George’s malady. According to their beliefs, sicknesses arise because sins stain the world. Human beings are weak and prone to crimes, end results of which are diseases and death (Ivtzan et al., 2013). Thus, Christians may view George’s condition as a product of sins. They may argue that George is in that condition because he has sinned and fallen short of God’s grace. The sickness could have also emanated from demonic attacks. In the Bible, there are numerous instances where people got sick as a result of the devil. For example, Job became ill as Satan tried his faith in God. Thus, some Christians may relate George’s predicament to what Job endured. They may view his malady as an attempt by the devil to gauge George’s reliance on God. Christians believe that God may let them fall sick to achieve His sovereign purpose. Mabena and Moodley (2012) argue, “God at times discipline Christians through sickness to produce a harvest of righteousness” (p. 307). Accordingly, George may have fallen sick as a result of God’s intention to remind him of His existence.
Buddhism associates karma with health and diseases. Ross (2016) posits that karma refers to the correlation between people’s actions and the subsequent repercussions. In other words, people’s actions dictate their health conditions. Buddhism holds that there is a close relationship between morality and health. Good morals contribute to a healthy life (Ross, 2016). As such, Buddhists may interpret George’s condition from an ethical point of view. They may argue that he suffers from his condition due to leading an unhealthy lifestyle. Beyond the reality of physical malady, Buddhists may have a conviction that George’s illness is a consequence of his immorality. He may be sick as a result of lack of mental discipline (Samadhi), morality (Sila), or wisdom (Panna) (Ross, 2016).
Value of Life
According to Mabena and Moodley (2012), Christians believe that life is sacred as it comes from God. They trust that life is God’s gift to humankind. Every individual has a purpose on earth, and each person has a duty to determine his/her reason for existence. They believe that life is sacred because it is bequeathed with a constant progression towards the full manifestation of godly personhood. Therefore, individuals should assist one another to achieve their potential in line with God’s purpose. In the light of this belief, the Christians would consider George’s life as sacred. They would think that he was born for invaluable reasons. Currently, George works as an attorney and lecturer. Christians may believe that his life was fashioned to assist in instilling knowledge in people. God uses him as a tool to disseminate knowledge and inculcate justice in the society. Human life is not measured based on one’s capacity, maturity, or usefulness. Instead, Christians believe that Christ died for all, and the life of every person is precious. In the same way, they would consider George’s life as precious.
According to Christians, “whether or not we submit to divine authority or we relate to our fellow human beings in the light of Calvary, only God has a total claim on life, human life in particular” (Mabena & Moodley, 2012, p. 268). God considers the sick, the mentally challenged and young kids as among the beneficiaries of Christ’s death. Thus, physical challenge or sickness should not lead to Christians undermining the value of human life. Based on these beliefs, Christians would consider George’s life as sacred despite his health condition. They would view his existence as a gift that he acquired at birth.
Buddhism trusts in the value and holiness of life. Keown (2014) alleges, “Buddhism believes that human life is rare privilege with special responsibilities” (p. 23). They trust that one is lucky to be born human, and should live to accomplish certain duties. In line with this conviction, they would believe that George was born for a reason. Buddhists would argue that George is alive because he is supposed to fulfill certain special obligations. Since he serves as an attorney and a lecturer, there is a possibility that those are his individual responsibilities.
According to Buddhism, there is no lasting and supreme importance of life. Instead, it is annulled and unsatisfactory. Nonetheless, “Buddha acknowledged that there is a relative significance of life, and it is through this relative and conditional nature that we can achieve and realize the universal truth” (Keown, 2014, p. 51). According to Buddhism, human life and the universe are occurrences that rise and fall. Everything in the world is subject to change, and nothing is perpetual. In life, there is no eternal happiness. Based on these beliefs, Buddhists would interpret George’s life with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as one of the transition stages in his existence. Being human, he is bound to experience ups and downs in life. They would view George as going through a phase characterized by suffering, which is normal because life is impermanent. The sickness would not affect George’s purpose in life. Therefore, Buddhists would still view him as one intended to fulfill special obligations.
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Values and Considerations
Christians are called to obey God and abide by His teachings. According to Christianity, life is sacred, and only God has the right to terminate one’s existence. Thus, Christians would first consider God’s instructions before administering euthanasia. According to Christianity, humans are stewards of their lives and have no right to kill themselves. The human life is meant for an eternal purpose, and it should be protected at all costs. Furthermore, God created man in His image, which implies that people’s life has infinite and fundamental value. Thus, Christians would consider the sanctity of life before undertaking euthanasia. People’s intrinsic value does not change based on their health condition. Hence, it is imperative to treat the life of the sick as valuable.
According to (Keown & Keown, 2013), Buddhism interprets medical ethics according to the belief of holiness of life. Keown and Keown (2013) argue, “For Buddhism, respect for life is grounded not in its divine origin but its spiritual destiny, namely the state of final perfection known as nirvana” (p. 267). Thus, Buddhists are keen to ensure that medical practices do not result in the destruction of human life. They will consider if euthanasia contravenes the Monastic Rule that advocates preservation of human life. Additionally, they would put into consideration the moral values of the religion. According to Buddhism, voluntary euthanasia violates the ethical standards of their faith and is intolerable.
Morally Justified Option
According to Christian beliefs, certain actions are naturally immoral and should be avoided in spite of any good impacts that might have on humans. For Christians, the end does not justify the means (Keown & Keown, 2013). Euthanasia may help to alleviate suffering amid terminally ill patients. However, it amounts to killing, which is against Christian values. People should treasure and protect life as it is God-given. Christians advocate the use of palliative care rather than administering euthanasia. In this regard, it would be morally justified to deliver palliative care on George instead of euthanasia. Buddha introduced the Monastic Rule when he learned that monks were requesting their colleague to kill them after disliking their bodies (Keown & Keown, 2013). The law prohibits the destruction of human life. According to Buddhism, no one has the right to take his/her life or request a third party to do it on their behalf. Based on the religion, the morally justified option would be to use palliative care to help George.
Life is sacred, and people should protect it through all means. Nevertheless, individuals have a right to their life and should be allowed to have the final decisions in the time of sickness. At times, one may request for euthanasia if it is the only thing that can guarantee a dignified death. It would be inhumane to let a patient suffer. In the case of George, he should be allowed to make a decision on whether to continue living or die. His family should guide and support him at this difficult moment. However, he should make the final determination. No one, not even the family members should influence him in making decision regarding his life.
Ivtzan, I., Chan, C., Gardner, H., & Prashar, K. (2013). Linking religion and spirituality with psychological well-being: Examining self-actualization, meaning in life, and personal growth initiative. Journal of Religion and Health, 52(3), 915-929.
Keown, D. (2014). Buddhism and Bioethics. London, UK: Macmillan Press Ltd.
Keown, D., & Keown, J. (2013). Killing, karma and caring: Euthanasia in Buddhism and Christianity. Journal of Medical Ethics, 21(1), 265-269.
Mabena, N., & Moodley, P. (2012). Spiritual meanings of illness in patients with cervical cancer. South African Journal of Psychology, 42(3), 301-311.
Ross, F. (2016). The meaning of life Hinduism and Buddhism. New York, NY: Routledge.
Vermeer, P. (2014). Religion and family life: An overview of current research and suggestions for future research. Religions, 5(1), 402-421.