Christian vs. Shinto Perspectives on Illness and Voluntary Euthanasia
This paper focuses on a comparative analysis of two religions namely Christianity and Shintoism while dealing with illnesses and voluntary euthanasia and the ethical considerations involved. Based and founded on different religious beliefs and perspectives, the two religions hold different understanding about life, end of life decisions and after death experience. Needless to say, health care workers have to respect the religious beliefs of the patients in cases where there is no hope of recovering from a genetic disease that will in the end make a person a prisoner of in their own body. Ethical considerations also encompass the beliefs of the dependents and family members when it to voluntary euthanasia and how they shall be able to cope with the absence of the patient. Finally, the laws governing such an action have to be encompassed and properly communicated to all the parties involved.
This paper does not claim to address all the issues that are related to ALS, religious beliefs, end of life decisions and health care practitioners ethical conduct when it comes to voluntary euthanasia. Conversely, it touches on the major issues that are affecting this specific case and the expected actions and reactions of the medical team with respect to the religious beliefs of the patient in case he belongs to either of the two aforementioned religions. Additionally the paper does not seek to criticize or advocate for any one of the two religions, it in fact states the beliefs and the religious stand on the matter.
George, an attorney in his mid-fifties, has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS which is a degenerative ailment that affects the muscles in the body and finally makes the person unable to make any muscle movement including breathing. There is no known cure for the disease and patients suffering from the ailment have to simply wait for the disease to advance and finally they will die. George has decided to have euthanasia because he knows he is not going to get better. Using two religious beliefs, an analysis of their expectations and understanding on matters pertaining illness and death will be critically discussed below. These two religions are Christianity and Shintoism.
Christianity is an Abrahamic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ who is believed to be the son of the God and often referred to as the Messiah meaning God’s Messenger (Gill, 2011). It references its teachings to the Bible which is a collection of 66 books written by different people who have encountered with God. Shintoism is a religion practiced in Japan and is based on diligently practicing rituals that are meant to wade off evil spirits that can cause harm to a person and their wellbeing (Chen et al 2012).
How would each religion interpret the nature of George’s malady and suffering? Is there a “why” to his disease and suffering? (i.e., is there a reason for why George is ill, beyond the reality of physical malady?)
Shintoists believe that the world has two kinds of spirits the evil and the good spirits; conversely they recognize the existence of germs and bacteria in the environment. The rituals performed by members of the religion are meant to wade the evil spirits and attract the good spirits. In this case, illness is caused by the invasion of evil spirits when one fails to diligently practice the rituals (Chen et al 2012). The evil spirits are believed to affect the immune system of an individual and once it has been lowered the disease causing bacteria and germs then invade the body and cause the ailment. Had George been a Shintoist it would have been believed that he was reluctant in performing his rituals and conversely the evil spirits had a chance to attack his health (Asoya, 2009).
Christians on the other hand belief that everything that happens to people is in accordance to the plan of their god (Gill, 2009). There is a divine and bigger reason as to why god would allow George to get sick with an ailment that has no cure. They believe in meditating upon the scriptures outlined in the bible and having a closer relationship with the loved ones before the person finally dies from the spread of the disease. Conversely the religion does believe in medication that it is able to treat and not to heal. In order for George to be healed from the disease prayer and intervention would be required and his faith should be unwavering.
In George’s analysis of his own life, how would each religion think about the value of his life as a person, and value of his life with ALS?
According to Christians, we are all created equal before the eyes of god and the eyes of man. Every person has a purpose to serve and once they have been able to accomplish their purpose is when they die (Lam, 2017). According to the bible, Jesus Christ died after fulfilling his mission here on earth and since all Christians seek to follow in his footsteps they shall also die after they have fulfilled their mission on earth (John 19:28). George is an attorney and in Christianity he is meant to fulfill his mission not only in his career but also in his personal life. In this case, his sickness might be aimed at bringing his family close as they come together in prayer and to take care of him. He is also meant to repent from all his sins and start to live a life of appreciating the little blessings that he receives from the Christian god.
In Shintoism, it is important to live a life of cleansing whereby every moment is a reflection upon who you are, what you do and what you will do in the future. No action that one takes should be aimed at harming another person as this will be allowing the evil spirit to manifest (Chen et al 2012). In this case, George would have to be paying for allowing the evil spirits to take residence in his life. This is one of the greatest sins for a Shintoist.
What sorts of values and considerations would each religion focus on in deliberating about whether or not George should opt for euthanasia?
Christianity is based on the belief that only their god has the right to give and take life and no man has the right to it. In case the doctors assist in administering the euthanasia to George they would be committing murder (Lam, 2017). Additionally George does not know the main reason as to why god has allowed him to become ill and by taking the euthanasia he may be interfering with a divine plan. Christians belief that god will always cure the sick as that is one of the miracles that Jesus Christ performed when he was on earth. In this case George can get healed even if there is no medicine for the disease; that could be the main reason for his ailment. To be used to show the great wonders that god can be able to perform.
According to Shintoism there is a reciprocal relationship between the spirits of the ancestors and the living. The living have to perform the rituals as per the religion as it acts as food for sustenance for the spirits of the ancestors and in return the ancestors provide protection for the living (Asoya, 2009). Illnesses are sometimes believed to be sent by angry ancestors that seek to be fed by rituals. In case George is tired of the life and seeks to join the ancestors he must have a meditation session where he apologizes to the ancestors for his actions. Once there is a sign that he has been forgiven but his ailment does not go away then it is a sign that he is required to join the world of the ancestors and taking the euthanasia would come highly recommended.
Given the above, what options would be morally justified under each religion for George and why?
In the event that George is a Christian he would be required to create a better relationship with his loved ones and with his god. This would have to be through sharing the scriptures together and engaging in prayer. He would be required to meditate upon what he reads in the bible in order to give god a chance to use him as an instrument to pass along a message to other people (Lam, 2017). He should willingly accept any suffering that comes with the illness and his family should also accept any burdens placed on them as it is god’s will. Euthanasia is not an option as god will allow for George to die during the time when he believes is best for all and his plan will be revealed in the end (Lam, 2017). Christianity is based on the fundamental belief that all happens for the good of all and that their god is a mysterious god who does not reveal anything to them and so they have to wait till things come to fruition.
In case George is a Shintoist then he would be required to practice the ritual of invoking the spirits of the ancestors and getting to understand where he went wrong and prompted for them to retrieve their protection. Once it has been established then either he would be healed or expected to take euthanasia (Asoya, 2009). Additionally he would be expected to make it clear to his children which rituals they are to engage in in order to feed him properly in the other world in exchange for his protection.
Personal view on Voluntary Euthanasia and Religious Beliefs on Illness and Death
When it comes to euthanasia many factors come into play and religion is one of the major determining factors. Most religions believe in the afterlife and euthanasia can only be administered to people who are comfortable with the afterlife that is presented by the faith that they believe in (Sharp, 2017). Christianity promises judgment after death and either one will go to heaven or to hell. Heaven is described to be a peaceful and divine place while hell is punishment for sinners and is said to have a fire where souls will burn eternally (Sharp, 2017). Shintoism promises an afterlife based on how well you treated others. If your descendants loved they will feed you in the afterlife and if they didn’t you shall always be hungry in the afterlife.
There are ethical considerations that come into play when a person seeks to use euthanasia. Ethically, George still has the right to plan his treatment program up until the point where he will not be able to effectively communicate his desires to the people around him. The first is that the person must be of sound mind when they decide to make the decision and they should be given ample time to decide on whether they are ready for the afterlife they believe in (Topor, 2016). The other consideration is that they should have an illness that has no cure and in the end will cause physical pain or financial constraint to the dependents. As the disease advances George is expected to lose control over his muscles and will finally not be able to breathe on his own, he will in financial terms become more of a liability than an asset to his family members and to the entire society at large.
The best option would be for George to tap into his faith and let his soul and heart to accept the decision he makes concerning using euthanasia (Topor, 2016). Additionally he should ensure that his loved ones are in agreement on the treatment plan to be embarked on. This is because if the family members would like him to use euthanasia when he becomes incapacitated, then he opts not to they may not take care of him properly and this will make his death painful. In the end the decision should be made by George together with his family and they should use the time that he still has and make the best of it.
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