Karma, reincarnation, and medicine: Hindu perspectives on biomedical research

Janis Faye Hutchinson, Richard Sharp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Prior to the completion of the Human Genome Project, bioethicists and other academics debated the impact of this new genetic information on medicine, health care, group identification, and peoples' lives. A major issue is the potential for unintended and intended adverse consequences to groups and individuals. When conducting research in, for instance, American Indian and Alaskan native (AI/AN) populations, political, cultural, religious and historical issues must be considered. Among African Americans, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is a reminder of racism and discrimination in this country. The goal of the current study is to understand reasons for participating, or not, in genetic research such as the HapMap project and other genetic/medical research from the perspective of the Indian American community in Houston, Texas. In this article, we report on a topic central to this discussion among Indian Americans: karma and reincarnation. Both concepts are important beliefs when considering the body and what should happen to it. Karma and reincarnation are also important considerations in participation in medical and genetic research because, according to karma, what is done to the body can affect future existences and the health of future descendants. Such views of genetic and medical research are culturally mediated. Spiritual beliefs about the body, tissue, and fluids and what happens to them when separated from the body can influence ideas about the utility and acceptability of genetic research and thereby affect the recruitment process. Within this community it is understood that genetic and environmental factors contribute to complex diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and cancer; and acknowledgment of the significance of environmental stressors in the production of disease. A commitment to service, i.e. "betterment of humanity," karmic beliefs, and targeting environmental stressors could be prominent avenues for public health campaigns in this population. This study suggests that minority status does not automatically indicate unwillingness to participate in genetic or medical research. Indian Americans were not skeptical about the potential benefits of biomedical research in comparison to other ethnic minority communities in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-111
Number of pages5
JournalGenomic Medicine
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Dec 2008


  • Genetic research
  • Karma
  • Medical research
  • Reincarnation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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