Hinduism

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Majority view

Minority view

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Majority view

The mainstream Hindu view is that deliberate destruction of an embryo is homicide. This mirrors mainstream Catholicism. The Vedas, the oldest of the sacred Hindu texts, emphasise the sanctity of life and this concept is at the heart of the Hindu doctrine of non violence. All life is God’s creation and therefore all life must be respected. In showing love to living creatures, we also show love to God.

Belief in reincarnation is particularly important in shaping traditional Hindu attitudes to embryonic stem cell research. When we die, our soul is reborn as another specie (this could be human or animal). The process of death and rebirth goes on over many, many, many lifetimes. It is a cycle that can end only after innumerable lifetimes of good deeds. Once liberated from the cycle, the soul ends up with God.

The purpose of human life is to make progress towards this liberation from rebirth through. But the destruction of an embryo interrupts this process of reincarnation because according to traditional Hinduism, the soul is reborn from its previous life at the moment of conception. This means destroying an embryo means destroying a new life with a soul and this can interfere with progress towards liberation from rebirth.

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Minority view

It is perfectly possible to use other Hindu concepts and traditions as the basis for accepting embryonic stem cell research. One can, for example, appeal to an ancient Hindu embryology which sees incarnation taking place as late as the 7th month of pregnancy. Research would then be acceptable right up until the 7th month, as the embryo is not a person until this age.

Other Hindus emphasise the need for society to make sacrifices for the greater good. Anil Bhanot, the General Secretary of the UK Hindu Council asks whether it is not worth sacrificing “a few for the greater good of helping the existing life”. Is this not “in itself a noble value for all our salvation?” According to Bhanot we live in a world where “the law of nature rules that we must kill in order to survive. Human beings only live and continue to breathe by consuming the plant and, in most cases, the animal life around us.” Under this view it is natural for humans to kill to survive and so it not fair for some very early forms of life – i.e. the embryo – to be destroyed if doing so yield treatments for otherwise incurable disease?

Learn More:

Bhattacharya S. Magical Progeny, Modern Technology: A Hindu Bioethics  of Assisted Reproductive Technology (State University of New York Press, 2006).