Death in U.S. Society: Actions and Inactions Guided by Religion

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Death in U.S. Society:

Actions and Inactions Guided by Religion

Written By Patricia Parrish
March, 2013

Many religions hold to the belief that thou shall not kill. This is the first of the Ten Commandments in Christianity, Jewish and Islamic religions. Even in atheistic religions, this belief holds true: Jainism’s first vow is to renounce killing and to deny the right to kill others (Nigosian, 2008). But in the United States government and the medical regulations, this basic truth lies in the grayest of areas. Through U.S. history, the decision to determine ones’ right to death has been legalized and made illegal by religion.

In the early 1990s, Jack Kevorkian stirred up the nation by taking a stand and performing assisted suicides in Michigan. At the time, there was no law against assisted suicide, just a social norm that suicide was wrong. This concept is formed by the Christian religions and the different takes on suicide. Because of the canon law dealing with funeral rites of the Catholic, "Manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funeral rites without public scandal of the faithful" (Dietzen, 2012), the belief was to shun the concept.

Dr. Kevorkian’s action Dr. Kevorkian originally thought the case would set a precedent for assisted suicide, but the decision prohibited him from conducting any further assisted suicides and eventually led Michigan’s legislature and courts to put up injunctions and create a law dealing with the issue. Dr. Kevorkian opened many people’s eyes, and for those who were sick, gave them hope of an option to end their suffering. But Dr. Kevorkian’s vision came at a time when society had not caught up with the forward thinking and used the moralistic codes built from the legislature’s religions to create the law which banned assisted suicide in Michigan. 86% of the population considered themselves Christian in the early 1990s (Census Bureau, 2008).

While Oregon legalized physician assisted death narrowly...
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