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One World – Many Different Beliefs

By on October 25, 2014
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There is a very interesting article from The Vancouver Sun about the importance of being able to support people well at end of life. We need to know this can be done well in spite of different cultures and beliefs. Instead of getting locked into only our own cultural way let’s learn about the many different ways that people make sense of their world. The fact that others may have very different ideas and beliefs to our own doesn’t matter for in the end we all deserve love and compassion, and the right to choose our own way at end of life.
A team of mostly Canadian medical professionals and religion scholars has spent years probing the nature of a “good death.” Their collaboration…  has lead to the publication of two valuable books ( to help caregivers deal with this)

The first is Religious Understandings of a Good Death, It delves into views about dying in the world’s religions.


The second is Spirituality in Hospice Care which concentrates on those who reject religion.

Go to the link below to read the whole article   Douglas Todd: In search of a ‘good death’

Dying is not for the faint of heart. It is the existential moment of truth, forcing us to face what we have made of our lives, good and not so good. As such, the end of life is increasingly viewed as a spiritual process.

The emotions that arise as people near death can be overwhelming. There can be intense pain, desolation, meaninglessness, discord, anger and fear. But there can also be peace, insight, connection and hope.

To better handle such powerful feelings, the hospice movement was founded and named in the 1960s in England by physician Cicely Saunders, a Christian determined to provide compassionate and holistic care to all dying people.

But the West is much more pluralistic and multicultural than 50 years ago… it now contains millions of members of each of the world’s major religions. Atheism is also on the rise.

Given such diversity and fragmentation, how can hospice staff and others who care for the terminally ill help make possible a “good death” for anyone, whether they’re Christian, Buddhist, spiritual-but-not-religious or atheist?

Tough spiritual questions flood the end of life. Was I a good person? Should I fight death or let it come naturally? Is my pain a form of punishment? Will there be a void, an afterlife, a reincarnation?

…People of different backgrounds can disagree over such things as donating organs, the role of the eldest son, pain medication and life support.

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Christianity …

When Christians care for the dying, Saunders, the hospice movement founder, urged them to focus on the person’s individuality, including their distinct world view.

Christians, says Soskice, are called upon to help anyone who is dying feel comfortable, safe, cared for “and, where appropriate, assured of the love of God.”20140928_172106 (Small)



Muslims believe God “determines the moment and time of our demise,” …Growing old and frail is considered natural in Islam and Muslims are not expected to fight imminent death, says Waugh. Some Muslim cultures oppose any planning in regards to the end of one’s life.

“Discussing death will speed it up,” …In Islam, suffering is often seen as a divine “test,” adds Waugh. “Pain may be interpreted as directly related to the notion of atonement for past sins. … A sick person should not complain about illness.”

In addition, the body is considered “inviolate” in Islam. So autopsies and organ donations are forbidden by the rules of Shariah. (The same is generally true in Chinese culture.)

… “awareness of conceptions such as ‘pain as God’s discipline,’ or the norms of Shariah in shaping the ends of life, are essential to providing sensitive care.”

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Chinese culture3 Lotus Flowers

... Chinese values are rooted in Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism…

It’s important for Chinese people to hang on to life and “fight to the last breath,” … Unlike in Islam, a Chinese person is not expected to surrender to death….

“If the eldest son is missing at the dying moment, this will be seen as a bad death. For male dominance is part of the Confucian hierarchical family structure, according to which family members are categorized in terms of age, gender and bloodline proximity.”

The last thoughts of a dying person are crucial among most ethnic Chinese people, … Buddhists believe one’s last thoughts can make the difference between being reborn into a good or bad reincarnation. A calm state of mind is sought.


Spiritual, but not religious/ Atheist

While hospice staff have adapted to the religiosity of new immigrants to Canada, they’ve also needed to respond to more people convinced formal religion is harmful.

The rise of atheists and the spiritual-but-not-religious, who make up one out of four North Americans…

Given such religious-secular diversity and polarization, “The ideal chaplain is the spiritual equivalent of an ethno-botanist,” says former chaplain Will Wilson, “someone who is familiar with the tools and taxonomies of a wide range of spiritual systems.”

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In the conclusion … the value of listening to the dying person (is what is most important)  Cultural curiosity is called for as a person physically deteriorates.


“A posture of openness, curiosity and humility will go a long way to avoiding alienating the people involved.”

Those who care for the dying should not necessarily see themselves as “detectives,” say the authors, but as “fellow explorers” on a journey.

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