Jainism is one of the world’s most enigmatic and misunderstood religions, which isn’t so surprising. Although the religion is popular in much of the eastern world, the west knows virtually nothing about it. Jains have strong beliefs regarding a person’s journey through life and death, and these beliefs help guide and advise followers on how to best make difficult decisions. So what do Jains believe regarding best practices surrounding medical treatments?
First and foremost, Jains believe that all forms of life are important — but that human life is of paramount importance. This provides some guidance on the most controversial types of medical treatment, but Jains have the opportunity to interpret some texts in their own way. This allows them to make decisions that are best suited to them individually.
The belief that life is so important means that medical procedures like abortion are unacceptale. More controversial is the fact that Jains are urged to protect the baby’s life even when the mother’s is in danger. Although the practice of aborting a pregnancy when the mother’s life might otherwise be lost is frowned upon, it is accepted in some circumstances so long as the mother continues to repent. In addition, contraceptive action is frowned upon in most Jain circles.
When the situation is dire — such as when traumatic brain injury makes lifelong debilitation or mental impairment more likely — then the individual in question may decide what actions should be taken under which circumstances. These actions are dependent on the advice of Jain spiritual leaders, though, and should not be taken lightly. It should be noted that assisted suicide is unacceptable.
Strangely, autopsy is acceptable in Jain culture. Other procedures before or after death, such as blood transfusion and organ transplantation, are acceptable and done only in accordance with an individual’s wishes. Certain medical procedures are not performed on many Jain patients because of how they are derived from animal products. Remember, Jain’s hold all life sacred — down to the smallest microbe. Even some foods are banned due to the high likelihood that microscopic life will be damaged.
Because of this same belief in protecting all life, Jain’s will accept care or end-of-life caregiving only when it does not cause harm. Jain medical providers should always understand these beliefs, and try to administer medicine in accordance with them.
When a Jain follower reaches the end of his or her life, it is perfectly normal to expect a great deal of visitation by friends, family members, and other pillars of the community such as religious leaders. Community is an important part of Jain philosophy, and Jains do their best to provide comfort to those who are about to take the next step of their journey from life into death.
Many daily rituals performed by Jain followers occur due to these beliefs. The Jains do not pray to one god in particular — instead, they worship life in all its forms.