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Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Sikhs: Death And The Dead

moment of death

Sikhs generally accept brain death as an indication of the departure of life from a body. If organ donation has been discussed with the family or patient, make sure that they accept brain death as the moment of death before removing any organs.

after death

It is important that the body of a Sikh patient is treated with respect. Before touching it, healthcare staff should put on disposable gloves to avoid direct contact. Remove drains and other tubes from the body where possible, or seal them so that fluid does not leak out. Cover any open wounds with dressings. Close the eyes and mouth, and straighten the arms and legs. Carefully wipe away any dirt with a dry cloth; it is important not to wash the body as this is a task that the family will wish to carry out themselves. Do not remove any of the five Ks if the person is wearing them, and do not undress the body. When these preparations have been completed, wrap the body in clean, white cloth ready for the family to care for.


Human life is sacred, but the empty flesh left behind after death is not sacred. If a post-mortem is required to determine the cause of death, then there is no Sikh ruling against this; however, it is a good idea to discuss this process with the family beforehand if there will be a delay in returning the body to them.

organ donation

Saving a human life is one of the greatest things one can do according to the Sikh religion; for this reason, donating organs after death is acceptable to Sikhs. The soul of a person is eternal, but the body is simply flesh and perishable. If another person can make use of organs from a Sikh's body, this is a good thing. Speak to the patient and family about this to confirm their individual opinions.

burial or cremation

There is no rule about whether a Sikh should be buried or cremated; this decision is usually left to the family and depends on tradition and circumstances. In India, most bodies are cremated and the ashes scattered on the waters of the Ganges river, but in this country many Sikhs are simply buried. Find out what the family would like and prepare the paperwork as quickly as possible for the release of the body.


Visiting the sick is a duty of the Sikh community, and so a Sikh patient may receive many visitors before and after death. Set aside a quiet space for the family and friends to grieve after the death of a relative. The family will usually take the body home to prepare it for burial or cremation; however, they might ask to be allowed to prepare it in the hospital, so make facilities available wherever possible.


Suicide is forbidden to Sikhs; human life is a gift from the Waheguru, and the destruction of that gift in this life will condemn the deceased to great penance in later lives. The family are likely to be very upset if their relative has committed suicide, so show great sensitivity in your care of them.

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