Hindu Ethics: Purity, Abortion, and Euthanasia

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

under consideration will also grow out of that context, as well as be determined by the contemporary Indian context. One cannot argue simplistically, as some moralists would have it, that only timeless rational (as opposed to more widely cultural) factors should be brought to bear in this matter. In any case, what counts for the cogency of purely rational reasons/arguments for any people/group is often itself culturally determined. The Hindu attitude to abortion and the unborn is the result of a rich cultural matrix. It will continue to be so determined in the present and the future and only as such can contribute distinctively to the discussion on the topic in the world at large. In this respect, the traditional Hindu stress on the wider social and moral obligations attaching to pregnancy (not excluding those to the child-to-be and the father), rather than the making of pregnancy a matter exclusively of individual rights (especially of the mother), must be noted. 74

Modern India, a secular democracy, permits abortion by law, under certain circumstances. No doubt this is a law availed of by some. Yet it is true to say that the issues relating to the moral status of the unborn and abortion have neither been aired nor even properly identified, in general, in Indian minds and literature. In public, the topic is by and large taboo. Illegal abortionists in the back street or the bush continue to ply their trade, often with dire consequences for their customers. To check exploitation of one kind or another in this matter, the issue must be thrown open.

In this chapter I have not sought to evaluate or to argue for or against any side. Rather, I have provided but a preliminary (and incomplete) historical and analytical study. Others are invited to continue the task.


NOTES
1
I can illustrate this from my own experience. In preparation for a visit to two well-known universities in India, shortly after completing this chapter, I offered the present topic (among others) to the relevant departments for possible seminars/public lectures. I was not too surprised to discover that, in both cases, this particular topic was politely singled out for exclusion on "cultural" grounds. It so happened that soon after my return from India I was to visit a university in Canada and one in the United States. I made the same proposal; in both instances, this topic was singled out for presentation.
2
Unless the context requires otherwise, in this chapter no significant distinction is intended between the terms "embryo" and "factus". Further, except where it is made clear to the contrary, our discussion applies specifically to the living, human embryo.
3
In theory, though not always in practice, the former are more authoritative than the latter.
4
See P. V. Kane History of Dharmaśstra. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1968, vol. 1, pt 1, 2d. ed., pp. 22f.

-61-

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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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