Buddhism: Death and Dying

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Buddhism

Death has been one of the most debated ethical issues within medical fraternity. Medical professionals are often faced with ethical dilemma when dealing with the patients from various faiths since religious groups have held different views concerning physician-assisted suicide. Euthanasia, the term used for physician-assisted suicide, means killing a patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal disease painlessly at their request. Some individuals and religious groups support euthanasia, arguing that it relieves patients from pain. On the other hand, such religions as Christianity and Buddhism are against it, with Buddhism claiming that it is unethical to destroy one’s life. However, Christianity is of the view that only God has the power to take life. This essay presents a comparative ethical analysis of the situation of George, as depicted in the case study, and presents a decision from the perspective of the worldview of Christianity and Buddhism.

Physician-assisted suicide, or simply euthanasia, is one of the most debated ethical issues within medical fraternity. Medical professionals are often faced with ethical dilemma regarding end-of-life questions when dealing with patients with various religious affiliations. Euthanasia is defined as the painless act of killing a patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal disease at their request (Lin, 2012). Thus, physician-assisted suicide is often referred to as mercy killing and is considered an act of kindness. According to Lin (2012), euthanasia has three different forms. First, voluntary killing is the killing of a person, suffering from an incurable disease painlessly at their request. Second, non-voluntary euthanasia occurs when the person who has consented to being killed is incapable of making sound judgment concerning life and death. Finally, involuntary euthanasia implies that a person is killed against their will in order to relieve them from suffering. Christianity and Buddhism are two religions that have a strong view at end-of-life issues. The views of these two religions have influenced healthcare providers in making ethical decisions concerning physician-assisted suicide. This essay is a comparative ethical analysis of the situation of George, as the case study depicts it, and it presents a decision from the perspective of the worldview of Christianity and Buddhism.

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Christianity’s and Buddhism’s Interpretation of George’s Malady

Christianity is a religion that is based on belief that human suffering is brought by God as the result of sin. In this view, Christianity always connects sin with sickness; therefore, there is a general perspective, held by Christians, that those who suffer from diseases have sinned. In the Holy Bible, Apostle James encourages those who are sick to seek prayer from the church elders, stating that they will be forgiven their sin and receive healing (James 5: 14-16, The New King James Version). According to Christianity, the suffering of George from terminal disease is interpreted as the result of his own transgression. However, Christian faith also believes that suffering can be the result of a trial that makes a believer strengthen their faith, patience, and forbearance. This position is illustrated in the story of Job from the Holy Scripture. According to a widely acknowledged interpretation of the Book of Job, Job was blameless, and thus, he was put to trial by the enemy Satan only to test his faith (Job 1: 6-12). In this regard, Christianity allows interpreting George’s sickness as a trial that God has given him to test his faith. Thus, Christians can argue rightly that George’s illness is beyond the reality of physical malady. On the other hand, Buddhism considers that one experiences suffering, such as sickness, as the consequence of their actions (McCormick, 2013; Lin, 2012). Similar to Christianity, Buddhism has a general belief that illnesses are meant to strengthen a one’s moral character and make them learn forbearance and patience (McCormick, 2013). Thus, George’s sickness can be interpreted by Buddhists as a sign of his evil actions in the past and as the means of strengthening his moral character. Similarly, Buddhism will argue that George’s condition is spiritual and it requires only spiritual intervention.

Value of George’s Life as Interpreted by Christianity and Buddhism

Christianity puts little emphasis on material prosperity. Christians believe that intellectual achievements, for example, success in professional career are the things that will perish with the world. According to the Holy Bible, one’s worth is determined by their spiritual and not earthly riches (Luke 12:15). In line with this view, Christians will not consider the intellectual achievement of George as something extraordinary and of great treasure. Therefore, the value of George’s life as a person is not held in admiration by Christians. On the other hand, George’s life with ALS based on the perspective of Christianity can be considered precious and admirable and a blessing. In the Holy Bible, trials are considered a blessing if one overcomes them. Apostle James encourages Christians to rejoice when they fall into various trials simply because the latter are meant to strengthen their faith (James 1:2). Similarly, this view is held by Buddhists who considers trials and sicknesses as a way to strengthening one’s moral behavior (“Ambattha Sutta,” n.d.). In addition, Buddhism believes that awareness and preparation for one’s death is a sign of a better life after death (McCormick, 2013). In this regard, George’s awareness of his near departure will help him prepare for a better life after death.

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Values and Considerations for Christianity and Buddhism

There are many considerations on the issue of euthanasia among Christians and Buddhists. Christianity generally opposes euthanasia. According to Christian beliefs, life is a gift from God; therefore, only God is permitted to end one’s life (Lin, 2012). Consequently, Christians consider the absolute authority of God on life and death, claiming that mercy killing denies the absolute authority of God. In addition, murder in any form is strictly outlawed in Christianity. According to the Holy Scripture, one is not allowed to murder (Exodus 20:13). Thus, euthanasia is classified as an act of murder and it is against Christians’ values and principles. Similarly, Buddhism is against euthanasia, and it teaches that humans must not take the life of their fellows or their own (Lin, 2012). In addition, Buddhism teaches that actions bring their own rewards, and happiness and misery are the result of human past actions. Here, Buddhism is of the view that one is a master of their own destiny; thus, Buddhists treat life with the utmost respect (“Theragatha,” n.d.). In this regard, taking into consideration Buddhists’ values, George should not opt for physician-assisted suicide. However, Buddhists believe that a person has a moral right to refuse treatment that they feel is futile. Even though this is the case, Buddhism maintains that as long as one chooses an action that does not take their own life, they are justified. Consequently, from the analysis of two views, one can see that both religions consider euthanasian an unethical practice and they do not permit George to opt for it.

Morally Justified Options for Both Christianity and Buddhism

Considering the values held by the two religions under discussion, in certain special cases, euthanasia can be morally justified. Passive euthanasia is a type of voluntary killing, involving the withdrawal or withholding of treatment in a deliberate manner (Lin, 2012). In passive euthanasia, a doctor intentionally stops any life sustaining measures and allows the patient to die slowly. For example, in Buddhism, patients are morally allowed to withdraw from any treatment that they consider not effective. Similarly, Christians believe that it is ethical for patients to refuse any form of treatment that produce an insignificant impact on their health. Therefore, healthcare providers are allowed to withdraw any life sustaining treatments that a patient has rejected based on the fact that they recognize no improvement in their condition. However, in a near-death situation, it is evident that the withdrawal of treatment will accelerate dying process. Thus, in both religions’ views, George is morally justified to reject life sustenance treatment for an option of accelerated dying process.

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Personal View

I disagree with Buddhism and Christianity that euthanasia should not be encouraged. My own view is that physician-assisted killing is an ethical medical practice that alleviates patients’ suffering and pain. Following the four principles of principalism, George should be able to proceed with the following plan. First, the principle of non-maleficence requires that healthcare providers not cause intentionally the suffering to patients. When a terminally ill person reaches a level where they cannot speak, it becomes difficult to provide treatment and measure their progress; thus, patients are only subjected to unnecessary suffering. This argument was supported by a research, conducted by Purvis (2012), who noted that patients had a moral right to choose death instead of an undignified life. Similar findings are reported by Strinic (2015) who states that terminally ill people should be spared of needless pain and provided with psychological reassurance (Lin, 2012). In addition, the respect for autonomy ethically justifies healthcare professionals to take actions based on independent decisions, made by patients. In George’s case, he has made an independent decision based on his perceived irreversible health condition.

Second, even as Buddhism and Christianity justify passive euthanasia, it is vital to point that deliberately withdrawing treatment is reciprocally similar to administering physician-assisted death (Purvis, 2012; Strinic, 2015). Furthermore, most medical experts are of the opinion that euthanasia should be permitted (Strinic, 2015). In regards to justice as a principle of ethics, if passive euthanasia is justifiable, the reciprocal of that is also justifiable. According to Strinic’ (2015) research findings, 30% of surveyed nurses supported assisted suicide, while 23% supported euthanasia, coming to a total of 53 %. Finally, patients have the right to refuse an ineffective treatment that only prolongs their life without any benefit to their mental or psychological condition (Strinic, 2015). Purvis (2012) asserts that patients have a right to die just as they have a right to live. Similarly, beneficence principle requires health professionals to act in a manner that benefit patient. In George’s case, dying is considered beneficial to him as opposed to hopeless suffering. From the points mentioned, it is evident that euthanasia is an ethical medical practice that should be encouraged.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, a closer look at both religions makes it clear that Christianity and Buddhism hold similar views regarding the end-of-life questions. Currently, Buddhism and Christianity are against physician-assisted suicide. However, both religions justify passive euthanasia and consider patients to be morally right to refuse treatments that have insignificant results. Contrary to the two religious views, I support euthanasia as an ethical medical practice based on the four principles of principalism. Terminally ill patients have a right to choose death over a miserable life of pain. In addition, passive euthanasia, medical experts’ opinion, and ineffective treatments are some of the reasons that prove the moral position of physician-assisted suicide.

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