May 6, 2011

Bio-Ethics and Medical Science in Jaina Texts

By Dr. Meenal Katarnikar
The ethical system contains
    • Beliefs about the nature of man,
    • Beliefs about ideals, about what is good or desirable or worthy of pursuit for its own sake,
    • Rules laying down what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, and
    • Motives that incline us to choose the right or wrong course.
The issues arising about what is good, desirable or worthy of pursuit, the standard of goodness and so, arising out of the development of biomedical sciences are the main subject of bio-ethics. And very specifically, the response of Jainism to these bio-ethical issues is the subject matter of present lecture.

It is a matter of debate whether ethics, either pure or applied, should be religion-free or is it always based on religious or metaphysical doctrines. The polemics in this context is relevant even today, because the present global society is divided in at least two groups, viz. religious and a–religious. And whenever any ethical issue related to any sphere of life arises, the religious authorities or advocates of religious ethics attempt to find out the solutions on the basis of the teachings of religion. For example, due to the advancements in medical sciences, society is availed of the treatments life artificial womb, test-tube-baby or even gene therapy. No doubt theses issues give rise to ethical questions. However, whether the response to these questions should be from a religious group or from a neutral group essentially depends on the mind-set of people living in society. Frequently it is found that religious group responds to these issues on the basis of certain ideas of merit and sin, good and bad as determined by the religious doctrines. And the response of Jainism to these issues is such a type of response. Keeping at background the Jaina ideals of non-violence, non-collectivism and ascetic life, Jainism responds to the bio-ethical issues.

In this lecture, the case study of following bio-ethical issues will be done, not all the issues will be discussed. The reason for being selective is that the focus of the lecture is on Jaina response to bio-ethical issues and not the elaborate description and discussion of bio-ethical issues. The issues for present lecture are:
    1. Abortion
    2. Artificial womb
    3. Contraception
    4. Euthanasia
    5. Organ donation
The changing set of values, varied ideas of pleasure and enjoyment, individual freedom, social status etc. have given rise to a different theorization of human life and consequently the issues related to span of human life, unwanted birth or craving for baby etc. have arisen.

1. Abortion
In the light of the emphasis on absolute non-violence, Jainism repudiates and prohibits abortion regardless of reasons. The Jaina explanation of this approach of non-violence could be as follows:
    • As the possibility of new birth exists, killing that life is high level of violence and cannot be justified under any reason.
    • If the intention of abortion is to get rid of the female child, Jainism will respond on the backdrop of equality of all life, and condemn the killing of a female child.
    • If possibility of defective delivery is the reason of abortion, Jainism will take into account the theory of karma and will argue that as the child will have to suffer because of his-her own past karmas, child will live or die of natural causes and hence deliberate killing of a child is not justified.
    • Jainism will also support saving the pre-maturely delivered babies at any cost even though there is every possibility that such a child does grow with disabilities from slow learning to overt physical disabilities.
    • If the reason of abortion is social, e.g. poverty or getting rid of un-wanted or illegal child, Jainism will respond with the support of two principles of non-violence and doctrine of karma and argue that as the child has to bear the fruits of past karmas and hence aborting the child will be a sin of interfering with other karma.
2. Artificial Womb
This device is adopted when the natural pregnancy is not possible due to the organic defects either in male or female. In-vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood are some ways that can be adopted when the wife in the couple cannot give birth to a child in a natural way. For the couple, which is craving for a child and cannot get it naturally, these medical inventions are like a boon. It would be interesting to see what Jainism would think about this.

First of all, arguing on the basis of the theory of karma, Jainism will entirely repudiate the idea of artificial procreation. It will point out that due to the past karmas of either wife or husband or both of them, natural pregnancy is not possible and hence the couple should accept it as their destiny.

Secondly, it will also oppose using either eggs or sperms or a womb of any other mother as a commodity for anyone’s selfish purpose.

3. Contraception
The idea of contraception, specifically is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, and in general to control the population.

Jainism might see the use of contraceptives as redundant in the light of the vow of celibacy. According to the fourth vow, Monks and Nuns are supposed to control their sexual passions completely, while householder males and females are supposed to control the same to a certain extent. For example, sexual relation with anyone other than spouse, or sexual relations when there is no motive for a child etc. is prohibited by Jainism. In this context, a true follower of Jainism will not require any contraceptive as he/she would have been already controlling the sexual passions. Jainism will prefer one’s own decision to control the passion rather than any external means to fulfil that passion without bearing the results of the same.

4. Euthanasia
Euthanasia means voluntary death. Specifically, when a person is suffering from some incurable disease, there being no possibility of his/her living, for long and moreover the same person is either undergoing enormous quantity of physical pain or is in no position to give any response to any stimuli, a doctor may help this person, with either the permission of that person or a family member, to die peacefully. The issue of euthanasia is a highly discussed and debated bio-ethical issue and in the religion-neutral field like medical science also there is no unanimity about the sanction or opposition to voluntary death.

Jainism definitely rules out any possibility of giving any sanction to euthanasia for at least two reasons:
    • Birth and death of a person is determined by his/her previous karmas, and hence no artificial means or deliberate attempt could be employed for either preparing or postponing the death. 
    • No living being has right to take away the life of any other being for any reason whatsoever. 
      In Jaina tradition, there is a vow called Sallekhana which is always mistakenly, compared with euthanasia. Sallekhana means spiritual death and is has no connection with biomedical progress, its discussion here would be inappropriate.

5. Organ-Donation / Transplant
If organ donation / transplant is done at the cost of other life or exploitation of other life, Jainism does not approve it even though it is helpful to some other jiva. In case of voluntary donating of the organ, e.g. kidney – transplant from mother to child or vice versa; Jainism should not have any problem as the donor has not taken the decision out of any external force or compulsion or helplessness.

This list can be extended as the bio-medical sciences have done magnificent progress even to the extent of cloning. But a few cases are sufficient to draw inferences about the Jaina position regarding bio-ethical issues.

Jainism would consider all these issues from purely religious perspectives. The evaluations of any of the above problems will be done in the measurement of sin and merit, following or transgressing the vows, especially the vow of non-violence and some such religious norm. But while maintaining the noble ethical and spiritual values, the social aspect of these issues has been ignored and therefore, Jaina position about bio-ethical issues appears to be highly spiritual and less social.

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