Although Jainism has been largely absent from discourses in bioethics and religion, its rich account of life, nonviolence, and contextual ethical response has much to offer the discussion within and beyond the Jain community. In this essay, I explore three possible reasons for this discursive absence, followed by an analysis of medical treatment in the Jain tradition—from rare accommodations in canonical texts to increasing acceptance in the post-canonical period, up to the present. I argue that the nonviolent restraint required by the ideal of ahiṃsā
is accompanied by applied tools of carefulness (apramatta
) that enable the evolution of medicine. These applied tools are derived from the earliest canonical strata and offer a distinct contribution to current bioethical discourses, demanding a more robust account of: (1) pervasive life forms; (2) desires and aversions that motivate behavior; (3) direct and indirect modes of harm; and (4) efforts to reduce harm in one’s given context. I conclude by examining these tools of carefulness briefly in light of contemporary Jain attitudes toward reproductive ethics, such as abortion and in vitro fertilization.
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