Religious attitudes to the elderly and death

An overview of Unit 2 of Religion and Morality

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  • Created by: Kate
  • Created on: 09-05-12 11:17

What is death?

Death: the end of life which can be determined in many different ways, but normally when the brain stops functioning, however these people can still be kept alive on life support machines, so it is hard to determine when a person is actually dead

For a religious person, apart from a Buddhist, the point of death would be when the soul leaves the body to begin an afterlife

A persons belief about life after death may affect their reaction to loss and their emotions

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Is death the end or a new beginning?

Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in heaven and hell, depending on how they have lived their lives. They traditionally have very vivid images for these

Heaven: the state of being with God after death

Hell: the state of being without God (or with the devil) after death

Purgatory: a time of spiritual cleansing and preperation for heaven believed by Roman Catholics, however other Christians believe God decides without the need for purgatory

Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists believe in reincarnation / rebirth, dependant on karma

Reincarnation: being born again in another form (Hindus and Sikhs) - described as the soul taking off old clothes and putting on new ones

Rebirth: continuing life in another form (Buddhists) - the main difference is that Buddhists don't believe in the soul - they just believe that the life force continues

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Attitudes to the elderly

The elderly face many problems

  • Poverty can be a problem - many rely on state pension and benefits
  • Many elderly may not want to retire - they may feel that their expertise is being discarded
  • Illness and health problems
  • They may be less mobile and have to rely on others
  • They may feel a burden on society as they cannot carry out paid work
  • They may be lonely as many live alone
  • The attitude of the media may make them feel like they are burdens on their families

Not all elderly face these problems, but ageism (prejudice and discrimination against the elderly) makes people still perceive them this way

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Who should care for the elderly?

Living at home

  • Many of the elderly are strongly independant and prefer to live at home
  • The local social services may allocate a social worker or someone to help with housework at a small cost
  • They may have a hot meal delivered once a day

Living with family

  • Muslims favour this option, and many other families prefer this too
  • It is best when the old person feels like a valued member and not just somebody who has to be there
  • Some religions would encourage this out of gratitude and respect

Community options

  • Some people move into sheltered housing, which allows some freedom
  • residential homes provide security and care
  • Care homes and hospices may be used when they are unwell
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What religion teaches about the elderly

Christians should support the elderly as they should be respected. Traditionally Christians have allowed the elderly to keep their independance, but where this is not possible find alternative arrangements for them "Honour your father and your mother"

Hindus consider looking after parents the eldest son's responsibility. Looking after parents is one of the 5 daily duties and the elderly should be cared for, respected and obeyed. "Let your mother be a god to you. Let your father be a god to you"

Islam has an extended family society, which means different generations often live together. Elderly parents have a right to be looked after and and are the responsibilty of the whole family. Sending them to a home is seen as unkind "The Lord hath decreed that ye be kind to parents"

Jews are encouraged to look after families at home, although it is acknowledged that this is not always possible, so the Jewish community provides good homes

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Should we be able to take life?

All religions condemn illegal killing, although some believers consider legal killing neccessary

In the cases of execution and war the government decides whether it is allowed, although some people argue that it's not the governments right to allow killing

Nobody really knows who has the right to make this choice, and also whether allowing a person to die is any different from actively killing them, which is a question doctors regularly face

All the main religions (apart from Buddhism) say that God can only make the desicion of who dies, so taking your own life or allowing it to be taken is a sin against God

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The euthanasia debate

Euthanasia: inducing a painless death, with agreement and compassion. The word means "gentle death" It involves giving a person close to death enough medication to help them. It is illegal in Britain as it could be seen as assisting suicide. There are 3 types of euthanasia, all illegal in Britian, but some legal in other countries

  • voluntary: the person asks the doctor to end their life
  • non-voluntary: the person is too ill to ask but it is believed to be in their best interests
  • involuntary: disabled/ sick people killed without consultation

Euthanasia can also be:

  • passive: this is when pain medication is increased so that life is shortened but also pain free, or when treatment is withdrawn as it is only prolonging the suffering
  • active: withholding treatment with the intention of ending life or giving a drug to end life

Some people make a living will that is not binding but makes wishes known

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Euthansia - different views

Christianity: Christians believe in the sancity of life and prefer to trust in God when they should die. However, some believe that God would not want people to suffer and gave people the intelligence to carry out euthanasia

Hinduism: Euthanasia is not allowed as suffering is a part of bad karma from a previous life and so should be endured

Islam: Only Allah can take life, so euthanasia is against his plan. Passive euthanasia may be allowed as it allows nature to take its course

Judaism: As God made life, only he can take it away

The fact that euthanasia is illegal may sway a person as to whether it is right

In Switzerland there is a clininc called DIgnitas which carries it out

Reginald Crew suffered from motor neurone disease and travelled to Dignitas to die

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How long should we keep people alive?

Life support machine: A machine that keeps people alive when they would otherwise die

there are also other ways of keeping people alive, such as strong drugs and high tech equiptment that control serious conditions and restart hearts

All religions support turning off life support machines for people who are brain dead. They recognise that this may be taking God's role, they prefer not to keep a person alive just for the sake of it and would rather somebody die than have a very low quality of life

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Help for the dying and bereaved

Mourning: a period of time when signs of grief are shown

Hospice: a special place to which people go to die with dignity. They consider emotional and spiritual care as well as physical. The hospices give enough pain relief to die comfortable. Some specialise in children

Christianity, Islam and Judaism all teach of heaven, and this can be a comfort to the dying and bereaved as in this way death becomes the start of something better

Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs may gain comfort from reincarnation or rebirth, but as karma is built up over life, it depends on how they lived their whole lives

Also, on a practical level the religious community will help and support the dying and their family

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