Hindu Ethics: Purity, Abortion, and Euthanasia

By Harold G. Coward; Julius J. Lipner et al. | Go to book overview

their natural life span. The West is discussing euthanasia with this presupposition still operant in its psyche. This does not mean that the West should take this presupposition for granted. For humane reasons, a strict legal definition of withdrawal of treatment is now viewed as acceptable. But the West should be wary of the freedom to will death in any circumstance. The ancient Hindus, too, had the presupposition of a long life. After the Vedic age this began to erode and, at times, was abused on account of the growing popularity of religious, self-willed death and sociological factors that may have pressured the individual to will his/her own death.

It may be argued that Western societies today do not share the same religious perspective that contributed to such abuse (the attainment of heaven by death at a holy place, and so on). It may also be contended that there may be equally serious situations in the future -- from population explosion to the difficulty of caring for a large population of the elderly, from individuals suffering from AIDS to eugenics -- that could easily stimulate abuse if societies fail to support the natural life span. Pessimism may be engendered in the modern age by other factors, such as living in the face of a possible nuclear holocaust or even deep questions on the meaning of human life when death is seen as the absolute end. Any perspective that contributes to the possibility of pessimism at the core of the Weltanschauung must be reevaluated. It may be far easier to erode life affirmation than to build it anew out of a pervasive pessimism. The danger lies in that, what starts out as a justification for an exception, such as euthanasia in special circumstances, may pave the way to a more general acceptance of self-willed death so that individuals take the matter into their own hands and bypass legal restrictions.

In conclusion, it may be said that there are good reasons for all cultures to be sensitive to the human dilemmas involved in the dying process. The issues involve not only the individual but also family and society. History, religion, medicine, and law must all inform today's reflection. It is hoped that the present study contributes to the ongoing discussion on a crosscultural basis. 22


NOTES
1.
This term was coined by Dr. Margaret Somerville, Director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, McGill University. I am grateful for a number of discussions with her that helped to refine my understanding of the current Western thinking on euthanasia.
2.
The American Heritage Dictionary, 1969, 453.
3.
See Paul Carrick's discussion in Medical Ethics in Antiquity, 1985, 127-8.

-121-

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Hindu Ethics: Purity, Abortion, and Euthanasia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 7
  • 1 - Purity in Hinduism: with Particular Reference to Patañjali's Yoga Sūtras 9
  • Notes 34
  • 2 - The Classical Hindu View on Abortion and the Moral Status of the Unborn 41
  • Notes 61
  • 3. Euthanasia: Traditional Hindu Views and the Contemporary Debate 71
  • Notes 121
  • Bibliography 125
  • About the Authors 131
  • Index 133
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