Comparative worldview analysis: Christianity and Buddhism

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Introduction

Christianity is an Abrahamic religion grounded on the life and lessons imparted by Jesus Christ. God sent Jesus to earth to deliver humankind from sin and eternal damnation (Goheen & Bartholomew, 2008). Buddhism is a religious movement and way of life that is established on the teachings of Buddha. Buddhism focuses on the liberation of humankind from earthly suffering through spiritual enlightenment and insight into the mechanics of reality and nature (Harvey, 2012). George is a lawyer and legal scholar suffering from ALS. ALS is a debilitating disease that affects the nervous system and currently has no cure. Apprehension about losing control over basic body functions and eventual undignified death have pushed George to consider euthanasia. The paper will explore the case of George from the Christian and Buddhist worldviews.

Christianity Worldview

Christians believe that God exists. Christians believe that God is eternal, omnipotent, and above all else good. God is a personal being who transcends reality and nature, knows everything, sees everything, and is overall merciful. Christians believe that God created the world and that reality works in an orderly manner (Goheen & Bartholomew, 2008). All actions in nature have a cause and resultant effect. Christians believe that God created humans in His image. As such, humans possess a sense of morality, are intelligent, and hold a higher position than all other creatures. God created a pure and sinless human being who later revolted against His warning and descended into sin. Through God’s grace, He sent His Son to redeem and sanctify humanity from the shackles of sin.

Christians believe that when a person dies, their body ceases to exist. Upon death, the body and soul become separate, and the person faces judgment. Based on how they lived on earth, a person can be promoted to heaven where they will join God or they may be condemned to eternal damnation and suffering in hell. Heaven and hell are both eternal states. Humans can gain knowledge because they were created in the image of God who Himself possesses knowledge (Goheen & Bartholomew, 2008). God created humans with the capacity to understand the world around them. Humankind can know right and wrong based on the character of God. God espouses such attributes as mercy, grace, love, and kindness. Christians believe that human history is a consequential and significant sequence of events. Human life has a meaning, and the purpose is to fulfill the will of God.

Buddhism Worldview

Unlike Christianity, Buddhism does not subscribe to a monotheistic view of a higher being. Buddhists believe in a transcendental reality that surpasses the material world (Harvey, 2012).  The ultimate reality surpasses human reality but lacks an omnipotent, personal, and all-knowing deity like God. Buddhists believe that the material reality in which humans exist is faulty and illusory. According to Buddhism, humans lack an understanding of material reality. Therefore, the material reality is understood as being highly impersonal and infinite. Buddhists believe that humans are a manifestation of impersonal forces that are striving for oneness with the universe. Buddhists believe that the fundamental nature of humanity is suffering (Harvey, 2012). Accordingly, humans should work to escape the condition of suffering by gaining truth.

Buddhists believe that when one dies, they attain reincarnation into another form (Hawter, 2012). After death, the energy of the person transfers into either an animal or another human and could sometimes take a divine form depending on how the person lived their life. Buddhists believe that birth, life, and death are an endless cycle that humans can escape from through enlightenment, thus attaining nirvana. Buddhists believe that humans can never truly gain an understanding of life and reality because knowledge is an illusion. Buddhists believe that appearances are misguiding and distract from the true nature of reality. In Buddhism, there exists a clear absence of moral absoluteness (Harvey, 2012). Buddhists believe that living in harmony with fellow humans, nature and the universe leads one closer to enlightenment and nirvana. Buddhists believe that human history is an endless cycle that lacks any tangible meaning. The only escape from the endless cycle is through nirvana.

Ethical Issues concerning the Four Principles of Principlism

The fundamental principles of the ethical concept of principlism are autonomy, beneficence, justice, and non-maleficence. Under autonomy, humans are defined as independent agents who possess free will (NCCHPP, 2016). Therefore, humans are entitled to make decisions about events affecting their well-being through informed consent. Under beneficence, humans are expected to do good unto other people. An individual should act to prevent or reduce any harm that may befall other people. Under non-maleficence, humans are required to desist from harming other people (NCCHPP, 2016). Non-maleficence also means inflicting the least severe form of harm upon others when the intention is beneficial. Justice advocates for the fair distribution of social advantages and disadvantages.

In the case of George, euthanasia presents an ethical issue related to autonomy. George is an intelligent person who understands the implications of ALS. George understands the severe effects of ALS such as losing muscle control and deterioration of the brain, nervous system, and spinal cord. Despite the diagnosis of ALS, George is currently of sound mind and perfectly understands the process of euthanasia and the finality of the procedure. In this case, George has the autonomy to make decisions regarding his health (NCCHPP, 2016). George has the necessary knowledge regarding procedures, outcomes, alternatives, and risks.

The appeal by George for voluntary euthanasia presents an ethical issue related to the principles of beneficence and non-maleficence. As the ALS progresses in severity, George will undergo great suffering as his body degenerates until eventual death. Presently, ALS lacks a cure, and the average life expectancy is between three to five years. Under beneficence, medical practitioners have the ethical responsibility of reducing the suffering of the patient (NCCHPP, 2016). George will undergo pain and suffering as he loses the ability to talk, walk, breathe or perform basic body functions. Through euthanasia, physicians can end suffering of George. However, under non-maleficence, doctors must desist from harming their patients. A medical procedure such as euthanasia results in death that would be an act of harm directed at another person (Widdershoven, 2010). Therefore, the situation of George presents an ethical conundrum since the principles of autonomy and beneficence conflict with non-maleficence.

 Analysis of Ethical Issues through Christian Worldview

The Christian worldview states that God creates human beings and therefore maintains sole authority to end an individual’s life. Therefore, George’s consideration of voluntary euthanasia presents an ethical issue from the Christian viewpoint. Christians believe that only God has the power to end a person’s life and therefore euthanasia would be an act that contradicts the principles of Christianity (Goheen & Bartholomew, 2008). Through the Christian worldview, the act of ending the life of another person would violate the sanctity of the life of that person. The process of dying is a highly spiritual event that connects the person and their creator.

Christianity respects the value of George’s life though he suffers from ALS because God created all humans in His image. Therefore, performing voluntary euthanasia would demean life of George. When deliberating on the situation of George, Christianity focuses on whether the illness should take its natural course to allow for a natural death. Christians would view George’s suffering as a temptation that can be overcome. Christians also believe that suffering and disease are conditions that all humans go through (Scheumann, 2013). Based on the Christian worldview, voluntary euthanasia is wrong. The morally justifiable option available to George is to take medication to weaken the effects of the disease and wait for a natural death.

Analysis of Ethical Issues through Buddhist Worldview

Through the Buddhist worldview, euthanasia presents an ethical and moral issue because people are prohibited from harming other people. A Buddhist should restrain from ending the life of another human being. However, Buddhism fails to outline whether the act of ending one’s life or the life of another person as an act of mercy is wrong (Harvey, 2012). In this case, George has appealed for voluntary euthanasia because he is bound to suffer and will cause discomfort to his family. Buddhists also believe that the process of death is a transition to the next state. Therefore, ending a person’s life, even voluntarily, causes interference with the cycle and balance of life (Hawter, 2012). Buddhists believe that suffering is worthless and humans should try to escape suffering. If George can overcome the suffering he is going through, he will attain spiritual progress. Therefore, the Buddhist worldview would allow voluntary euthanasia if the procedure intends to end the torment of other people rather than to end one’s suffering. For George, the morally justifiable option under Buddhism is to proceed with euthanasia, but only if he intends to shield others from distress.

Personal Recommendation

I would recommend that George should go ahead with the voluntary euthanasia procedure. George should be allowed to end his life because has a comprehensive understanding of the adverse effects of ALS and the consequence of euthanasia. I support the freedom of choice in the case of informed consent. As such, George has the autonomy and knowledge to choose when to end his life. As ALS progresses, their physical and mental condition of George will deteriorate and the result is inescapable agony and discomfort. ALS lacks a cure and the available medication will only slow the advent of symptoms. Therefore, the only way to redeem George from suffering is through euthanasia. I believe in the worth and dignity of every person. The suffering that George will go through as the ALS progresses will erode his dignity. Voluntary euthanasia will also allow George to end his life in a dignified way.

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  1. Goheen, M. W., & Bartholomew, C. G. (2008). Living at the crossroads: An introduction to the Christian worldview. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.
  2. Harvey, P. (2012). An introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, history, and practices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Hawter, V. P. (2012). Death and Dying in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. Retrieved from Buddhanet: http://www.buddhanet.net/deathtib.htm.
  4. Moreland, J. P. (2009). What are some key bioethical principles involved in euthanasia debates? Retrieved from Christian Research Institute: http://www.equip.org/article/what-are-some-key-bioethical-principles-involved-in-euthanasia-debates/
  5. NCCHPP. (2016). Principlism and Frameworks in Public Health Ethics. Quebec: National Collaborating Centre for Health and Public Policy.
  6. Scheumann, J. (2013). Five Truths About Christian Suffering. Retrieved from Desiring God: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/five-truths-about-christian-suffering
  7. Widdershoven, G. (2010). Beyond Autonomy and Beneficence: The Moral Basis of Euthanasia in the Netherlands. Maastricht: Maastricht University.
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