Whitny Braun is an American bioethicist featured on the National Geographic Channel television program "Taboo" and a blogger for the Huffington Post known for her research with regard to the Jain practice of Sallekhana and the Parsi practice of Dakhmenashini. She has served as the Director of the Centers for South Asian Religious Traditions at Claremont Lincoln University and as Claremont Lincoln's Director of Educational Programming. She is currently an assistant professor of bioethics at Loma Linda University and scholar with the Center for Christian Bioethics at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California. She earned a PhD in theology, ethics and cultural studies at Claremont Graduate University.
Braun writes a series for the Huffington Post on Seventh-day Adventism in popular culture for the website's religion page. A second series is underway looking at bioethics and assisted reproductive technologies.
Additionally Braun has published on the topic of healthcare in the American prison system, specifically with regard to organ donation and the death penalty. Her current research focuses on the ongoing legal battle over Sallekhana in the Indian courts and possible American legal precedent for the practice. She has spoken at several international conferences about Christian, Jewish and Muslim philosophical approaches to artificial reproductive technology, specifically heterologous embryo transfer and the embryo industry in the United States as well as the ethics of disaster management strategies in Haiti. Most recently she has been published in "Natural Transitions" magazine, a publication which examines options for the dying process. She has also been interviewed on the topic of Sallekhana by Scientific American Magazine.
In 2006 human rights activist Nikhil Soni and his lawyer Madhav Mishra, filed a Public Interest Litigation with the Rajasthan High Court. The PIL claimed that Sallekhana should be considered to be suicide under the Indian legal statute. They argued that Article 21 of the Indian constitution only guarantees the right to life, but not to death. The petition extends to those who facilitate individuals taking the vow of with aiding and abetting an act of suicide. In response, the Jain community argued that it is a violation of the Indian Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. It was argued that Sallekhana serves as a means of coercing widows and elderly relatives into taking their own lives. After being in India for the initial legal battle over Sallekhana in 2006 Braun presented the first academic paper on Sallekhana before the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics Conference in Eilat, Israel in 2007.
This landmark case sparked debate in India, where national bioethical guidelines have been in place since 1980. But it also raised the question of Sallekhana in the United States. Braun documented the final days of a woman who took Sallekhana in Texas in 2013 named Dr. Bhagwati Gada.
In August 2015, the Rajasthan High Court stated that the practice is not an essential tenet of Jainism and banned the practice making it punishable under section 306 and 309 (Abetment of Suicide) of the Indian Penal Code.
On August 31, 2015 advocates Dhawal Jiwan Mehta and Krishna Balaji Moorthy of the law firm of Wadia Ghandy in Mumbai argued a Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court of India to have the August 10th, 2015 ruling of the High Court of Rajasthan against Sallekhana overturned. The appeal featured excerpts from Braun's dissertation arguing the philosophical and legal nature of the act of Sallekhana. The Supreme Court overturned the ruling of the High Court of Rajasthan temporarily, allowing Jains to continue practicing Sallekhana, until the Supreme Court can fully engage the issue with regard to the constitutionality of the act. This process could take up to three to five years.
Braun was born in Redlands, California and raised between Downey, California and Coulterville, California. She was born into the Seventh-day Adventist church and is currently an associate scholar of the Seventh-day Adventist Center for Christian Bioethics at Loma Linda University, however her writings and opinions most often reflect a secular humanist position her research looks at anthropological and sociological aspects of Eastern and Central Asian religions and applications towards bioethics. She often refers to herself as a pragmatist. Peter Singer jokingly referred to her as "a darling of the Bioethics set." Steve Lopez of the LA Times has called her his expert on the death and dying.
Braun is of Scottish, Dutch, Czech Jew and Mississippi Choctaw and Cherokee Native American descent. She is the granddaughter of physicist and physician who pioneered early nuclear medicine technologies in cancer therapy Dr. Ernest Braun and the great-great-granddaughter of pioneering photographer of the Old West Ory T. Davis. As a teenager she participated in the Junior Statesmen of America at Georgetown University. At 18 she was the youngest contestant to ever compete on the American trivia game show Win Ben Stein's Money.
Braun and divides her time between Southern California and the Sierra Nevadas near Yosemite National Park where she keeps her collection of vintage Airstream travel trailers.