Wednesday, February 26th, 2020 Religion, Medicine, Bioethics, and the Law in End-of-life Care: South Asian Religious Adherent Perspectives

Wednesday, February 26, 202012:00PM - 2:00PM108N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, ON, M5S 3K7


This talk is based on a recently defended doctoral ethnography investigating end-of-life care issues in contemporary India from the perspectives of Indian and Tibetan religious adherents, through the lenses of religious studies, bioethics and the law. The need came in part from a paucity in bioethics studies related to the ancient Indic religious traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, from some studies ignoring the non-theistic Indic traditions altogether and legal challenges in India against Jain fasting at the end of life. Three core themes include attempts to block disclosure of bad news in sharing of sensitive medical information; ritual fasting and immobilization at the end of life; and exposure to and attitudes towards end-of-life care models including pain management, hospice palliative care and assistance in dying. This study is an advocacy anthropology project with hopes that it proves helpful in India and other jurisdictions where South Asian religious adherents receive end-of-life care so that culturally safe care can be better provided.

Dr. Sean Hillman is a clinical bioethicist with the Centre for Clinical Ethics (CCE), a consultant organization based at Unity Health Toronto and contracted to seven institutions in Ontario. Over the last several years Sean has been the ethics lead for the five-hospital Lakeridge Health system in Durham region. He also is a Buddhist Corrections Chaplain for two facilities in the Kingston region. Sean was a bedside caregiver in hospital for almost two decades and did a year-long fellowship in Clinical and Organizational Bioethics also at the CCE. A medical anthropologist and textualist, Sean recently completed his doctorate in religion and the collaborative programs of bioethics and south Asian studies at U of T.

A scholar of various Asian philosophies and languages for almost thirty years, with a major focus on the Indic religious traditions, Sean has spent five years living, studying and researching in India. Sean’s current research projects are on maximizing decisional participation by those who might have mental capacity interferences, and on how to better understand why families may request aggressive medical management for their loved-ones despite a poor prognosis (including religious logic such as vitalism, non-harm and filial piety). Sean is a member of Durham Family Resources community advisory committee for their “recognizing capacity” pilot project which advocates for increased inclusion of those with intellectual, cognitive or communication challenges and for including supported decision making in Ontario healthcare law.


Sean Hillman
PhD, Religion/Bioethics/South Asian Studies, U of T, 2019; Clinical Ethicist, Lakeridge Health (Centre for Clinical Ethics); Buddhist Corrections Chaplain, Bath and Collins Bay Institutions

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