Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Hindus: Conflicts With Western Society

family and the individual

The question of identity highlights a major difference between Hindu and western cultures. Hindus do not have autonomy as individuals because they are intimately integrated with their extended family. This has particular implications for decision-making, which should be taken into consideration when treating Hindu patients: often decisions will be taken by senior members of the family, or a female patient may expect her husband to consent to any treatment on her behalf.

It is traditional for the extended family and friends to pay frequent visits to an ill person, to offer them support in their time of need. This may cause some conflict with hospital policies on visiting times and the number of visitors allowed.

medical school dissection

Hindu medical students may not wish to be involved in dissection. Although it is not specifically forbidden by their religion, they may view dissection as conflicting with the principle of ahinsa or non-injury. It is a matter for individual choice.

termination of pregnancy

The Hindu belief that death is simply a stage of existence may conflict with the opinions of other staff. Breaking the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara) by taking some kind of direct action is generally disapproved of, and so the termination of a pregnancy violates not just the principle of ahinsa but also artificially interrupts samsara for the foetus, which is seen as fully human from the moment of its conception.

However, a termination may be considered to be acceptable if it is carried out to save the life of the mother. Some Hindus may feel that it is culturally acceptable to abort a female foetus in a society that values boys so highly.

treating people whose lifestyle has caused their illness

Some Hindus do not drink alcohol at all, whereas others believe it is acceptable as long as it does not lead to the loss of control. Taking drugs is generally not acceptable because they cloud the mind, pollute the body and distance the atman, or soul, from Brahma. Strict Hindus may not be happy about treating patients who have become ill as a result of their own lifestyle in case any spiritual impurity is transferred to them, but most will be happy to do so to preserve life.


Hindu texts make very little reference to homosexuality and some Hindus believe that their religion therefore tolerates it. In fact, homo-erotic carvings in ancient Indian temples can be interpreted to show more-liberal early attitudes to sexuality in general. However, homosexuality is now generally considered to be an indulgence and is not supported by the Vedas.

Lesbianism is generally felt to undermine the control that men have over their family, which is seen as the foundation of Asian society, a society in which the concept of penetrative heterosexuality within marriage is promoted as a procreative act. It also goes against the stri-dharma, or 'way of the wife', the dharma laid on all women, which instructs women in their duties to the family and their husband.

life support

Many Hindu patients have a strong desire to die at home, and their families may be against the use of life support in hospital. Their belief in life after death and the ongoing process of rebirth (samsara) may also influence their feelings on methods of prolonging life.

organ donation

Donation, or selfless giving (daan), is the third of ten virtuous acts (niyamas) in Hinduism. Hindus have a strong belief in life after death and the ongoing process of rebirth (samsara). Organ donation can help to save the lives of others, and is therefore acceptable within Hinduism. However, Hindus tend to believe that the organ carries with it some of the atman of the donor, and that the recipient takes on some aspects of the karma of the donor, including their emotions, likes and interests. They may also be concerned about the afterlife of the donor while part of him or her continues to live in the recipient.

Some Hindus may be happy to donate some organs (e.g. the corneas) but not others (e.g. the heart). Other Hindus may be horrified by the whole idea because it interrupts the samsara.

traditional medicines

Hinduism views healing as a holistic science of daily living that supports health and well-being in mind and body. The traditional Hindu system of medicine, which is known as ayurveda, or life knowledge, treats imbalances in the body with diet, exercise and meditation as well as herbal remedies.

Three doshas (bodily humours) regulate mind–body harmony: vata (wind) governs movement including blood flow, elimination of waste, breathing and thinking; pitta (bile) governs heat, metabolism and transformation in the body and mind; and kapha (phlegm) provides material for physical structure, including lubrication of the joints, moisturisation of the skin, the healing of wounds, the immune system and energy to the heart and lungs.