Buddhists: Conflicts With Western Society
Some Buddhists may have issues with genetic testing if it is used to determine the health of an unborn baby with a view to termination.
Ideally, Buddhists should not be responsible for the death of any other living organism, and so it may be wise to offer a vegetarian menu to a Buddhist. Many Buddhists practising in the West will be strict vegetarians, if not vegans. Buddhists from non-western countries may be happy to eat meat.
One of the Five Precepts of Buddhism states: 'I undertake to abstain from intoxicants which cloud the mind' – this includes alcohol. Some Buddhists interpret this as complete abstention, whereas others allow a small amount of alcohol in their diet because they are responsible for their own actions. Individual Buddhists may therefore also refuse to take medications that include alcohol.
Technically, Buddhists should not have any issues with carrying out a post-mortem because the body is not held in great reverence once its consciousness has departed. However, some Buddhists believe that it takes at least three days for consciousness to leave a body and that no disturbance or movement should take place during that time, so a quick post-mortem could endanger this process.
Many Buddhists see life as a continuum because the arising of a new being or person is dependent on the body–mind of the being that existed before, as indeed the being that comes after the person in this life is dependent on the body–mind of the current person. However, each individual is unique and is made afresh as an egg, sperm and consciousness come together. For many Buddhists, life begins at conception, and thus they may not believe that contraception is acceptable.For many Western Buddhists, however, the teachings about rebirth do not figure prominently in their practice of Buddhism. Instead, emphasis is likely to be on finding the most ethical forms of contraception; the coil, for example, may be considered unacceptable (see also the section on 'birth, babies and motherhood').
Technically, Buddhists should not have any issues with carrying out a dissection because the body of a person or animal is not held in great reverence once consciousness has departed it. However, as some Buddhists believe that it takes at least three days for consciousness to leave a body and that no disturbance or movement should take place during that time, dissecting a body before this has happened could endanger this process. Healthcare workers may refuse to partake in the dissection of a body or parts of a body if its consciousness has not been allowed to leave.
Buddhists pay attention to the way that death is inevitable. Thought may extend to the idea that life should be allowed to run its natural course and medical intervention, such as resuscitation, would interfere with this.
Conversely, prolonging life to achieve the ultimate goal of Enlightenment may be the view taken.
organ donation and transplantation
Although organ donation is a subject that is still under some debate, it should be possible to discuss organ donation with the family of the deceased without causing offence.
In Buddhist belief, consciousness is located throughout all organs of the body, not just the brain; thus, when one part of the body ceases to function, consciousness is not abated and death has not occurred until consciousness has left the body. It is possible that the harvesting of organs disturbs the process of dissolution that takes place after death, and would therefore be considered undesirable.
Also, some Buddhists believe that life and inevitable death should be left to their own natural course, and that organ donation or transplantation goes against the precept of taking life. Organ donation and transplantation may be seen as unethical because they extend a life that would, without medical intervention, diminish. Conversely, a Buddhist may believe organ donation or transplantation is the gift of life and the greatest act of kindness a person could perform; the act of helping someone else to live after their own death may offset the perceived dangers of disturbing their body too quickly.
Although most Western Buddhists now consider organ donation to be a good thing, it may be best to consult with a relative or member of their Sangha because there are many different styles of Buddhism and not all of them agree on this point.
One of the Five Precepts of Buddhist tradition states: 'I undertake to abstain from intoxicants which cloud the mind', which may, for individual Buddhists, include some medicines. Some Buddhists may therefore refuse to take medications that include alcohol.
As Buddhist tradition also uses psychosomatic techniques such as meditation to ease pain, this may be a preferred option for pain relief.
If possible, vegetarian medicines should be offered because many Buddhists are vegetarian, so that they can live by another of the Five Precepts: 'I undertake to abstain from taking life'.
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