Implications Of Jain Views Of Death For Bioethics

Although self-willed death is illegal in India, Jains are arguing for the decriminalization of suicide so that they can restore the traditional practice of fasting to death. They argue that this practice legitimates refusal or withdrawal of nutrition and life-support systems in modern medical contexts for the terminally ill. They also argue that prolongation of the dying process is immoral, because it increases suffering or depletes the resources of the family or community; thus the fast to death is a way to "permit oneself the honour of dying without undue prolongation of the process" (Bilimoria). But since the fast to death was also practiced traditionally in nonmedical contexts, it was not always a way to avoid the prolongation of dying; on the contrary, it was a way of hastening death by the cultural act of fasting when the body was not about to die of natural causes. Although the fast to death was generally understood to be voluntary and planned (and in a category distinct from both homicide and suicide), there were several exceptions. According to some, severely handicapped newborns were allowed to die (balamarana) when permission was given by parents or a preceptor. In the Bhava Pahu4a Jtku, balamarana is classified as: "The death of the ignoramus, or a foolish process of meeting death ... Bala means childish, undeveloped, or yet-to-be-developed, premature and silly" (Settar, 1990, p. 15). It includes the death of infants and those who have an infantile knowledge— who are ignorant, who do not understand the moral codes, or who have a wrong notion of the faith and kill themselves by fire, smoke, poison, water, rope, suffocation, or jumping. While the original classification indicated simply a subdivision of natural death that would lead to rebirth, it seems that at some point in the tradition or perhaps in the modern period, the classification bala-marana has been reinterpreted. Accordingly, Bilimoria (reporting on statements made by Jain informants) observes that in principle there appeared to be no reason why a child afflicted with or suffering from the kinds of conditions described earlier should not be given the terminal fast (sallekhana). Parental permission would be required where there is contact, failing which a preceptor (for instance in an ashram) may be in a position to make a pronouncement. Consent of the recipient is not necessary (hence, a case of nonvoluntary terminal fast). One who has fallen in a state of unconsciousness, again, can be given the fast . even if the person had made no requests while she was conscious, though parents or kin would be consulted. It seemed evident that 'consent,' either of the individual or a proxy, or of the parent, does not seem to be a necessary condition for commending [a] final fast. This would seem to constitute a case of involuntary sallekhana____When

... asked whether it would be acceptable to inject lethal poison to bring on the impending death, the response was that under extreme conditions where the pain and suffering is unendurable and not abating.. (p. 347)

It is argued by Jains that the history of fasting to death demonstrates that self-willed death need not lead to other forms of self-willed or other-willed death. While it is true that in the past there were a number of safeguards (permission of the head of the monastery, a formal public vow, established ascetic discipline, evidence of courage and will rather than cowardice) and the history of fasting to death was without any extreme abuse in India, there was still a change in the number of groups involved (from monastics to lay people) indicating extension or popularization of the practice. Moreover, the fact that Jainism was the first Indian religion to legitimate a form of self-willed death means that it set an example, which may have inspired legitimation of self-willed death without such careful safeguards by other Indian religions (Young, 1989). In other words, its indirect contribution to a slippery slope in Indian religions cannot be ruled out despite Jain disclaimers. When the Indian penal code made suicide illegal, fasting to death was included. Despite the fact that any form of self-willed death is still illegal in India, there are between six and ten reported Jain fasts to death annually (Bilimoria).

100 Health Tips

100 Health Tips

Breakfast is the most vital meal. It should not be missed in order to refuel your body from functional metabolic changes during long hours of sleep. It is best to include carbohydrates, fats and proteins for an ideal nutrition such as combinations of fresh fruits, bread toast and breakfast cereals with milk. Learn even more tips like these within this health tips guide.

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