The Right to Die & The Divine Right of Life

By Jennifer Carillo-Hernandez

The right to die is an ethical choice that is based on one’s religious beliefs. As every religion has an ethical code that their followers subscribe to, the right to die is determined in this way. Therefore the right to die is not a state decision, a medical decision, or even a personal individual decision, it is rooted in the religious guidelines of a group.

Josh McAuley, a 15 year old young man who was crushed by a car, refused blood transfusions before he died because of his Jehovah Witness practices. Jehovah Witnesses were taught to “abstain from blood” (Act 15:20). If any member who accepts that kind of treatment can be cast out of the church. They believe blood is sacred. “it’s the giver of life, God shed blood for mankind sins, and mankind salvation.” McAuley “was not overruled by members of his family” (The Telegraph) he understood the consequences for not receiving the treatment the doctor advised to him. As Clive Parker, an elder at kingdom hall of Jehovah Witness from where McAuley and his family worshipped said, “He made a stand on the blood issue. He made the choice personally.” And why did McAuley make that decision? Because his choices are tied around the code of his religious belief to abstain from blood.

According to the Religious Landscape Survey (Pew Research) 83.1% adults are affiliated with one of the major religious traditions in the United States. For a religious person, he or she chooses to live life based upon his or her religious code, which often supercedes their individual, personal considerations when it comes to a decision to die. The five major world religions are Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Of these major religions Christianity and Buddhism offer a unique comparison in terms of their  different perspectives on the right to die. While both religions consider the personal choice to die something that should be based upon the rules of the religious doctrine, they see the act and intentions behind the act of taking one’s life very differently.

 Before addressing the act of suicide for Christian scholars, it must first be made clear that their fundamental belief is God is the giver of all life. God gives everyone a duty on Earth and therefore is the only one who decides who dies and when. The Bible considers the act of suicide is as equal to murder. There are two types of sins in the Christian faith, mortal and venial. A mortal sin is the violation of God’s law in a serious matters, it’s the “spiritual” death to the soul (separation from God). Since suicide is morally comparable to murder, and the sixth commandment reads “thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) it follows that suicide, the taking of a life, is a mortal sin. A Christian who murders someone else has the chance to confess his sins and repent, where as a Christian who commits suicide does not have the chance to confess or repent because they died before salvation. Therefore, choosing to take your life is not something a Christian can consider because exercising the right to die is even worse than taking the life of another.

In contrast, while Buddhists also have clear views on an individual’s right to take their own life, they differ from the clear Christian position that exercising the right to die is a violation of the will of God. The primary foundation of Buddhist  teachings are built around the Four Noble Truths and the guidelines of the EightFold Path. The four noble truths are: all of life is suffering; all suffering is caused by desire; We can free ourselves from the cycle of suffering; the way to do this is to follow the Eightfold Path. Therefore, a Buddhist would see no logical reason for exercising one’s right to die because there is a clear way to end suffering. The specific steps of the Eightfold Path are: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. According to the Buddhist faith following this path is a way to achieve enlightenment within one’s lifetime. Logic holds that if you can become enlightened in a lifetime, to intentionally exit life early (violating several steps of the Eightfold Path) is not only in violation of the religious teaching, but it will not end your life problems, disappointments or suffering.

In Buddhism, death is not the end of life, it’s the end of the body our soul’s inhabit and as our spirits will attach to a new body and new life; ending one life early intentionally will only bring you back into the game, as part of the karmic cycle.  Buddhist practice teaches that taking one’s own life owing to frustration or disappointment will only cause greater suffering. They view suicide as a “cowardly” way to end one’s problems. A Buddhist who committed suicide did not learn how to face his or her problems, did not face the facts of life nor did he or she usehis or her mind in a proper manner and because of that he or she does not understand the nature of life.  A Buddhist will only be free from all suffering when he or she understands the natures of the universe, however, until then he or she will be stuck in the cycle of reincarnation.

Organized religions and religious teachers are vested in demonstrating the validity of their teaching. They are also seen as the authority on such moral issues as the right to die and so it is imperative that they clearly communicate moral rules around such ideas. Religious leaders also are looked upon as the moral leaders in their communities and so it is especially important for the teachers to take a strong and clear position on issues that might otherwise fall into an unclear area. For these reasons the various religious leaders have taken a strong stand against the right to die in most cases as an extension of their moral leadership stemming from their faith. They take it upon themselves to be sure that there are clear guidelines for good behavior and life choices for those who follow their path, offering their followers an explanation for their teaching and a set of rules. During church, the priest main job is to remind everyone that Jesus Christ has the power to everything. A priest makes clear that If a Catholic does not follow God’s laws the consequences to bad behavior is Hell. Catholics believe that God created the Bible, which where all the laws are layout, because people will make sinfully decisions without a set of regulations. For these reasons the religious positions around the right to die continue to hold their ground in modern society.

Assuming that the survey results are accurate, and even allowing for a significant margin of error it can be safely said that more than 75% of American adults adhere to a religious doctrine that prohibits the taking of any life. Therefore, that same percentage would logically agree that this is not a decision to be put in the hands of the state, or any individual because it’s a divine right. We don’t have the choice, it is outside the reach of human beings.jennymap

One Comment Add yours

  1. asterricks says:

    So in other words, suicide should not be allowed due to the practices of most people’s religions. Would it be safe to assume that because the majority religion prohibits taking one’s own life that it is the reason the state prevents it from being legal?

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