How to Care for a Buddhist who is Dying

nursing-home-caregiver-with-patientWith the related topics of Tissue and Organ Donation, Euthanasia currently being debated throughout the nation, the Buddhist Council of WA is pleased to present the following message for all care-givers on How to Care for a Buddhist who is Dying:

How to Care For a Buddhist Who is Dying

Death is a special time according to the Buddha’s teachings. If your mind is peaceful and virtuous at the end, it helps achieve a good rebirth.

Approaching the Time of Death

  1. Maintain a peaceful, relaxed atmosphere in the person’s room. Do not argue, gossip or talk about medical procedures or such across the person’s bed, even if they appear unconscious. Leave the room if you are emotionally upset or crying.
  2. Assume that the dying person can hear, even though they may be unconscious.
  3. Try to adjust the level of pain relief so that the person is relatively peaceful, yet remains as mentally alert as possible.
  4. Unless instructed otherwise, arrange to have the person’s closest family and/or friends present.
  5. Unless instructed otherwise, allow Buddhist lamas, monks or nuns, or Buddhist friends to phone and visit, even though they may not be family.
  6. Some Buddhists may not want medical interventions that artificially prolong life; this needs to be checked with each individual.
  7. Family or friends may be invited to help set up a small, simple altar in full view of the person, and according to their wishes.
  8. Respect the spiritual beliefs of the dying person; silent or spoken prayers may be helpful.

After the Person Has Died

  1. After breathing has ceased, maintain a peaceful, quiet atmosphere.
  2. Buddhists from various traditions have different customs regarding after death care:
  • Practitioners of Mahayana & Tibetan Buddhism believe that the death process continues after the heart stops beating, and they prefer that the body, with particular respect to the head, should not be disturbed for at least a few hours. However, depending on the request of the practitioner, different things may be done. If they have indicated organ donation, do what is normal for this procedure. If they have requested not to be disturbed, please leave the body undisturbed for as long as possible, at least for the time permitted. During this time family and friends can carry out the practises of the individual’s tradition which may include mantra recitation, chanting, prayer or sutra recitation. Although it may not be possible to strictly adhere to this, the wishes of the deceased as expressed to the family or the Sangha should be respected as far as possible. Normal Buddhist funeral rites as requested by the family may begin after this.
  • Theravada Buddhists believe that the process of dying is concluded with the irreversible death of the brain, after which point the body may be moved, organs transplanted, and the body prepared for the funeral rites, according to the wishes of the family.