Caring for the Soul of Hindu Newborns at their End-of-life in Catholic Hospitals
Giulia Adele Dinicola, MA and PhD Student, Duquesne University
Hippocrates is often considered to be the father of western medicine. Doctors still swear of his Oath when entering their career, but somehow, they seem to have forgotten that Hippocrates, in absence of scientific knowledge, encourages healers not only to heal the body, but also to take into great consideration the wellness of the soul. During the scientific revolution, however, doctors slowly shifted the way they look at patients. In the 1800s, the clinical pathological model replaced the Hippocratic anatomical model, leading doctors to make diagnoses based on physiological factors at the expense of the psychological aspect of illness. Nevertheless, when western physicians meet patients from other cultures, they may encounter difficulties dialoguing with them. For example, Hinduism is considered one of the most ancient religions in the world. Although the technological innovation of modernization has hampered their tradition, Hindus still rely on their ancient texts when making decisions. From their point of view, human lives cannot be reduced to statistical and empirical facts, such as it occurs in western medicine. Indeed, they focus more on preserving the spirit, rather than considering survival as one of the goals of medicine. Consequently, when a preterm baby is born, Hindu parents might struggle to understand the goals of Catholic neonatologists who may advise plan care based on preserving life at all costs. This divergence may create misunderstanding when discussing end-of-life decisions. Hindus may assess the situation based on different standards. Since they value relational aspects to be of utmost importance, they may accept treatments only in the likelihood of good neurological outcomes. Interactions allow every Hindu to fulfill their ultimate goal to free their ātman, the soul, from the potential endless cycle of the rebirths by reaching moksa, a status of liberation where the soul does not suffer from diseases, bodily needs, and death anymore. In their perspective, the concept of karma plays an important role that may help them cope with the loss of a newborn differently than in the western tradition. They strongly believe that our lives are influenced by good or bad karma accumulated in previous lives. Being able to interact allows Hindus to act virtuously in the aim of purifying their soul hoping to reach moksa. This belief leads them to have a more optimistic idea of death itself, which is not seen as the opposite of life, but of birth. When it comes to end-of-life decisions in newborns, Hindu parents may opt to forgo treatment and let the baby peacefully die, while praying for its soul to have a better rebirth. This paper aims to evaluate quality-of-life assessment in the Hindu tradition in comparison with the Catholic sanctity-of-life paradigm. The purpose of this work is to understand if a dialogue between these two different traditions is possible in order to help western doctors care for their Hindu patients’ souls. A dialogue may lead western medicine to learn from Hindu medicine and viceversa.