The common concern for an Atheist is the overlaying question umbrellaed over all religious traditions, the question of God’s existence, respectively, God’s allowance in evil and suffering. Cancer, mental health disorder, evil in the form of murder or spite, sickness… If there is a God, an all loving God, then why are these a part of someone’s reality?
Theology relies on Faith. Religion isn’t always backed up with evidence, faith is the grounds of religion. Faith alone means “strong belief in the doctrines of a religion based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.” The Bible itself defines faith as “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11.1) Theologically speaking, actions are of two types, the ones you can control and the ones you can’t control. For example, the actions we can control are what we eat, how we dress, where we go, these are things we can select. Whereas, the actions we can’t control are things such as our heartbeat, our thinking, floods, disease – these things are beyond human control. The knowledge of goodness can never be known without the opposite. Sheikh W explained: “If God placed us in this world to have free choice, he has to give a manifestation to their free choices. Some people become the results of other people’s bad choices. We cannot know for sure the true wisdom being God’s actions, but what we do know is that this life is a testing ground.” A direct support of Sheikh W’s statement is a Qur’anic quote, “Allah is He who created death and life to test you as to which of you is best in deed.” (Qur’an 67:2)
Most, if not all religious faiths disapprove with the idea of euthanasia, as it is religiously classified into suicide or murder, and in my study of Catholicism, Islam, and Buddhism, these three main religions strongly forbid it, with the Catholic Church being one of the biggest organisations in opposing these acts. Life-sustaining therapy, although, is a grey area for most religious adherents, with the majority at a standstill in the exact beliefs of their religious tradition on this topic. Life-sustaining treatment, essentially, is “therapy that serves to prolong life, without reversing the underlying medical condition.” Most commonly used means of this treatment include; cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), dialysis, transfusions and mechanical ventilation. Before the late 1920’s, life support did not exist, with the earliest breathing machine coming in 1928, the Drinker respirator, also known as the ‘iron lung’. (See below picture) This invention raised the question of how far one should continue with therapies, as many people saw ‘no point’ due to the level of cofinment, leaving the patient with questionabel prosepct of life.
(The ‘iron lung’)
Before this invention, life-sustaining methods were not an option, and being as religion was founded before this time, there is no clear definition related directly to life-sustaining treatments in any religious texts, leaving aspects of these treatments to individual or group interpretation. The creation of further life-sustaining treatments brought about the new moral question of how far we should continue with such treatments, and if science’s new revolution was going against the ‘will’ of God. This also meant that religious adherents, and theologists needed to find answers, and progressing change over time meant that new ideas of the value of life needed to be investigated. The iron lung is a form of treatment that meant the patient remained completely confined, prosperity for life was diminished and allegations of ‘unnatural living’ rose. The changing nature of religion to adhere to societal changes meant a loss of tradition and thorough interpretation of concepts in scripture. Thus, leading to see how technology and science plays a part as ‘God’s hand’ on earth.
Through my study of Catholicism, Islam and Buddhism, all three hold reasonably similar beliefs to life-sustaining treatments. All three interviewees expressed that any treatment that will prolong a person’s life is highly regarded and acceptable in God’s eyes. All leaders being in total agreement with any uses of life sustaining therapies. A theory of theology explains that if there is a way to prolong a person’s life, that all those means should be taken. It is part of God’s will to keep a person alive for as long as possible, and all doctor’s advice should be adhered to. Relating to the theory of actions as two typed, when the choice is out of a person’s hand then there is nothing more that can be done, it is viewed as that person’s ‘time’, but, if there is a choice that is within your control then all means must be taken to prolong that life. Regardless of probability, if there is even a point percentage of brain function or prosperity of life, religiously, one would keep the machine, or means of therapy running, unless an option becomes non-selective then it is out of human hands, and into the hands of God. For Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, they attempt to preserve life with all means possible, until it is seen as unnatural, or lack to prosperity of life, but even that is subjective to individual interpretation. “If there is some hope of even a chance, no matter how small, even a 0.00009%, we have no reason to turn anything off…but the doctors consideration is highly respected” (Sheikh W) “If the doctor declares a body unfunctional, no brain function, no prospect of life, we would let nature take its way…” (Monk B) “So long as there is prospect of life, it would be a sin to withdraw treatment from that person…although the church said ”there is no need to use extraordinary means to prolong life” but what is extraordinary… being ‘better’ is a relative term so only an individual can make that decision… ” (Father P). Survey responses highlighted the ‘positive’ nature of life-sustaining therapies with small differences within age gaps. A scale ranked 0-100 asked respondents how strongly they support the use of life-sustaining therapies, with the average number being 62 out of 100. Further investigation led to see that for the ‘extent’ of religious views influencing their likelihood of using this treatment, the average number was 29 out of 100. Analysis of both rankings showed that ALL respondents who answered over 60/100 for their support of the treatment were under the age of 40, and over 80% of these respondents choose “Christian/Catholic” as their religious denomination. Extent of religious views influencing use of treatment saw respondents over the age of 40 ranking at least a 20-point difference compared to respondents under the age of 35. 18 people stated ‘yes’ to having opposing views to their religion and 48 stating ‘no’, with majority of respondents stating ‘yes’ being under the age of 35. All data from the survey, shows that the nature of time has highly influenced people’s religious values. Explicit generational gaps are present, with a clearly higher attraction to religion in older generations, showing resistance to change from the older generations, and more rapid change to adapt to society in the younger generations. We saw a distinct average pattern, displaying younger respondents with less religious identification and older adherents following strict systems of their faith, displaying the adaption and resistance to nature of change in a face paced society.
The over-laying concept sees a decline in religious following as generations go on, with traditional views still present from resistance to change by older generations. The life support machines in hospitals are an example of transformative change as it introduced the questions to medicine on how much effort we should put into saving someone. The concept of life remains sacred, with all religious traditions investigated, coinciding with the use of life sustaining therapies, by a means of respecting and using the life God gave, with its fullest potential.