Activity 3: Death within India -Sara Diesel

Worldwide, death has a way in bringing about spiritual concerns and questions that individuals may not think about on a day to day basis.  Death, even for those who think of themselves as not spiritual people, is an event so important and challenging to deal with, that one seeks alternative outlets and sources for hope, naturally.  Of course, depending on culture, and more specifically the religion one most identifies with, these concepts of good and bad death, personhood, choices in death, and life after death, and even from individual to individual practicing the same faith within the same culture, have both similarities and differences.  In reflecting upon Susan Orpett Long’s “Cultural scripts for a good death in Japan and the United States: similarities and differences”, even within these two post-industrial societies, there are many prejudices we share and idealize of one another that are untrue, many similarities that are unexpected, as well as particular differences in how we define and reflect upon these different choices and challenges of death.

In India, there are 5 main religions that all hold various beliefs of death.  Hinduism, India’s most prevalent faith, teaches reincarnation to either life with God in heaven, or into Brahma, an ultimate reality, which we usually associate with reincarnation.  Good and Bad death, which was discussed in Susan Long’s findings in Japan and the United States, is similarly a concern for Hindus.  Good death is proposed as approaching death without fear, and through prayer and meditation.  The concept of choice is similarly of issue as one can choose to end their own life, but it is important to note that, “There is a distinction between the willed death of a spiritually advanced person and someone in pain wishing to end an intolerable life. Suicide for a selfish reason is morally wrong and leads to hell” (Sharma 2013).

Similar to Japan, India has practiced a paternalistic approach to medicine.  India in contrast, is currently making an effort to move to a more “share based decision model of the West”, specifically when making choices and decisions for the fate of the terminally ill.  It is also addressed though, that the decision making being completely up to the individual is more seen as isolating, rather than in empowering in non-Western countries.  In India, it is custom for both family members and physicians to share the decision making process on behalf of the individual seeking care.  Another similarity between Japan and India, is the occurrence of keeping one of the parties in dark.  By this, I mean that often times, the patient’s family will encourage the physician to keep the patient unaware of a poor diagnosis, and sometimes the patient will tell the physician to keep their family in the dark but to tell them what their own diagnosis is.  Physicians in India do often like to have one head member of the patient’s family to inform and discuss treatment and end of life options with.

A Physician determines death in India, after following a checklist of neurological tests, and following with the apnoea test.  Following the determination of death, the physician must notify the nest of kin, generally the eldest son of the death (Goila, 2009).  After the declaration of death, dealing with the body and the process of mourning then depends on the family’s or individual’s religion.  In Hinduism, cremation is most commonly observed, although some people do choose burial instead, mostly for very young children.  The deceased’s family prepares the body for cremation in bathing the body dressing it in specific colors depending on if they were male, female, or were widowed or unmarried women, the family may also adorn the body with jewels and flowers.  The body is now to be turned so that the head is pointed towards the south.  The eldest son is also trusted to be in charge of the deceased’s final rite.  Following the cremation or burial, the family undergoes a ‘purifying bath’ following the emersion of the ashes into a holy river.  Following this, the family comes together for a ceremonial and to give gifts to charities and to the poor (Library of Congress, 1995).



  • Sharma, H., Jagdish, V., Anusha, P., & Bharti, S. (2013). End-of-life care: Indian perspective. Retrieved July 24, 2015.
  • Goila, A., & Pawar, M. (2009, March 1). The diagnosis of brain death. Retrieved July 24, 2015.
  • Das, S. (n.d.). Hindu Rites & Rituals: The Ceremonies of Hinduism. Retrieved July 24, 2015, from



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