Friday, November 7, 2008

Religion & Euthanasia - Religions That Apply

As we were about to comment on a few of the cases regarding patients refusing medical treatment on religious grounds it just dawned on us...we haven’t actually talked about what specific religions actually pertain to this topic. There are way too many religions to know exactly how many carry stipulations regarding medical procedures and frankly...we don’t have the time to research all of them, so we will only touch on a few. There is a lot of variation in terms of what religions deem to be acceptable medical intervention and there is also a lot of variation in terms of the consequences that will apply afterwards. Some religions outright ban certain medical procedures and expulsion from the religious group can happen if a follower decides to ‘go against their religion’. Other religions do not take such an extreme approach and although they may discourage a certain medical procedure, they leave it up to the individual to decide.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination, are known for more than just their door-to-door preaching tactics. They are also known for their refusal of blood transfusions on religious grounds and there have been many documented cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses doing so. They believe that the Bible prohibits blood transfusions and this belief is based upon how they interpret certain passages from the bible. The specific passage that Jehovah’s Witnesses belief tells them to ‘abstain from blood’ is Acts 15: 28, 29. In the passage it states:

28 For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to YOU, except these necessary things, 29 to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If YOU carefully keep yourselves from these things, YOU will prosper. Good health to YOU!”

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not feel that the threat of death is enough to abandon their beliefs and they take blood transfusions very seriously. In fact, in 1961, accepting a blood transfusion became grounds for expulsion from the religion.

Two other religions that apply to this topic, although they do not have as strong beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses, are Christian Science and Roman Catholics. Christian Science (and NO it’s not Scientology) has a very spiritual base and the religion was established in the 19th century by Mary Baker Eddy. The religion does not have any specific rules against any particular medical procedures and the use of medicine is not forbidden. However, they choose to rely on prayer and the work of God to heal them. Roman Catholics do not feel obligated to use extraordinary means to prolong life and have actually taken extra steps to distinguish the refusal of extensive medical procedures from euthanasia. In 1980, the ‘Declaration on Euthanasia’ was issued on behalf of Pope John Paul II and to avoid a huge history lesson...the document basically states that the refusal of medical treatment does not constitute euthanasia.

If others reading this blog know of any other religions that have similar beliefs regarding medical procedures, please feel free to comment. Specific cases of people refusing medical procedures on religious grounds are coming in the future from this section of the blog...we promise :)

-All info. regarding the various religions was taken from each religion's respective website

1 comment:

Ashley K said...

One of the most important public policy debates today in the field of medicine surrounds the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide. The outcome of that debate profoundly affects family relationships, interactions between doctors and patients, and the concepts of basic ethical behavior. My comment is about the Jewish/halakhic concerns which relate to controversial issues and difficult challenges that surround euthanasia. I wrote a paper in univeristy about this issue and thought I would share some of the research I had previously done.

First it is important to differentiate between the different types of euthanasia. There are three types of euthanasia: passive euthanasia, active euthanasia, and physician assisted suicide. Passive euthanasia is hastening the death of a person by altering some form of support and letting nature take its course. For example, removing life support, stopping medical procedures, or not delivering CPR are all forms of passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia is causing the death of a person through a direct action, in response to a request from that person. An example of active euthanasia would be a doctor giving a patient a lethal injection upon the patient’s request. The third type of euthanasia is physician assisted suicide, where a physician supplies information and/or the means of committing suicide to a person at their request, so they can easily terminate their own life. For example, if a doctor provides a prescription for a lethal dose of sleeping pills to the patient or tells a patient where a supply of carbon monoxide gas can be found, this is classified as physician assisted suicide.

In Judaism murder is one of three cardinal sins. According to Rabbi Tzvi Meklenberg there are two types of murder: the first is to the detriment of the victim, and the second is for the benefit of the victim. By referring to the two ways in which one person might take another’s life, the Torah does not differentiate based on motive and reasons, but both are equally prohibited. Furthermore, the Jewish religion does not condone suicide. Thus, even if euthanasia is voluntary, and considered to be suicide, under Jewish law it is prohibited. [Source: Bleich, J. David and Rosner, Fred. Jewish Bioethics. Page 257]

One of the earliest recorded instances of euthanasia in Judaism appeared in the Book of Samuel, which is also the first source to forbid the act expressly. It describes how, about 3000 years ago, King David ordered the summary execution of a soldier who had put a bleeding and dying King Saul out of his misery. Later Talmudic writers, who in the 6th century AD codified 2000 years of evolving Jewish oral law, removed any lingering doubt regarding the illegality of euthanasia: “He who closes the eyes of a dying person while the soul is departing is a murderer.” The most widely quoted Talmudic commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitchaki, explained in the 11th century AD that even the lightest unnecessary touch to the eyes of a dying person may hasten death, and therefore is forbidden. [Source: ]

In the Jewish religion it is prohibited to expediate the death of a dying person. Deliberately shortening the life of a terminally ill patient is equivalent to murder, even if natural death is only moments away. An individual in whom death is imminent, meaning the person is expected to die in three days or less, is referred to as a goses. It is stated in the Mishnah that, “a goses is considered as a living person in all respects”. [Source: Bleich, J. David and Rosner, Fred. Jewish Bioethics. Page 262.] In the case of a goses it is strictly prohibited to perform any act that might expedite the goses' death.

Another halakhic concern refers to God as being the sole creator of human life. Because human beings were created in G-d's image, any injury to a human being, including self-inflicted harm, is considered an injury to G-d's image. Furthermore, because G-d owns the body and soul, self-inflicted injury is not permissible. [Source:]

Hanina Ben Tradyon exclaimed while being burned at the stake by the Romans, “it is better that my soul shall be taken by Him Who gave it, than that I should do any harm to it on my own.” Through his statement, Tradyon demonstrates the Jewish belief that only God has the power to remove from a person the life, which he granted. According to Fred Rosner, under Jewish law, God is the owner of our bodies, and we are therefore obligated to protect it. [Source: Jakobovits, Immanuel. Jewish Medical Ethics. Page123]

With today’s technological advances in medical science, standard therapies are quickly evolving in our increasingly modern society. While the concepts and actions of euthanasia remain static; it is the medical conditions and treatments surrounding illness that have changed.

One consequence of this sort of medical development is that it is now possible, indeed almost common, to die in pieces. Where once brain function, heartbeat and breathing would have failed at almost the same time, it is now possible for the latter two to be maintained when the brain is finished. So the question arises, what counts as death? And who counts as alive? If the euthanasia debate is about mercy killing, how long can we continue to insist that there is somebody there to be killed? [Source:] According to Jewish law a person is only deemed dead when their soul departs their body; if a person is brain dead, this does not imply that they are no longer living. A person's soul is not his/her to extinguish, and a person cannot direct someone else to assist them in ending their life. [Source:]

The Jewish/halakhic view strictly prohibits euthanasia of all types in all circumstances. Under Jewish law active euthanasia is viewed as a form of murder, whereas voluntary euthanasia is viewed as a form of suicide, but both are prohibited and not allowed. It is forbidden to expediate the death of a dying person, but if there is something that is delaying a person’s death one can remove it, for this does not involve any action at all, but rather the removal of a preventative agent. [Source: Jakobovits, Immanuel. Jewish Medical Ethics. Page123 (Isserles, Rabbi Moses. Code of Jewish Law. YD 339:1)] Judaism condemns any deliberate induction of death and considers it an act of murder, even if the patient requests it. [Source: Rosner, Fred and Tendler, Rave Moshe D. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah. Page 370.] With the technological developments in the field of medicine, further challenges have been presented to Jewish medical ethics and the issues surrounding euthanasia. Nonetheless, according to all the denominations of Judaism euthanasia is not accepted and strictly prohibited.