What are Hindu perspectives on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The BBC wrote in an Aug. 25, 2009 online article titled "Religion & Ethics - Hinduism: Euthanasia and Suicide" on www.bbc.co.uk:
"There are several Hindu points of view on euthanasia.
Most Hindus would say that a doctor should not accept a patient's request for euthanasia since this will cause the soul and body to be separated at an unnatural time. The result will damage the karma of both doctor and patient.
Other Hindus believe that euthanasia cannot be allowed because it breaches the teaching of ahimsa (doing no harm).
However, some Hindus say that by helping to end a painful life a person is performing a good deed and so fulfilling their moral obligations."
The Himalayan Academy at Kauai's Hindu Monestary wrote the following in an article titled "Karma and Reincarnation" on their website, www.himalayanacademy.com (accessed Oct. 12, 2009):
"Hindus know that all souls reincarnate, take one body and then another, evolving through experience over long periods of time. Like the caterpillar's metamorphosis into the butterfly, death doesn't end our existence but frees us to pursue an even greater development.
Understanding the laws of the death process, the Hindu is vigilant of his thoughts and mental loyalties. He knows that the contents of his mind at the point of death in large part dictate where he will function in the astral plane and the quality of his next birth...
When a person is put on long-term life support, he must be left on it until some natural biological or environmental event brings death. If he is killed through euthanasia, this again further disturbs the timing of the death. As a result, the timing of future births would be drastically altered.
Euthanasia, the willful destruction of a physical body, is a very serious karma. This applies to all cases including someone experiencing long-term, intolerable pain. Even such difficult life experiences must be allowed to resolve themselves naturally. Dying may be painful, but death itself is not. All those involved (directly or indirectly) in euthanasia will proportionately take on the remaining prarabdha karma of the dying person. And the euthanasia participants will, to the degree contributed, face a similar karmic situation in this or a future life."
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, founder and former leader of the Saiva Siddhanta Church in Kauai, HI, wrote the following in Living with Siva: Hinduism's Contemporary Culture, published in 2001:
"In their love, their wisdom of the meaning and purpose of life, the rishis, the divine lawmakers, provided an alternative for extraordinary human suffering. They knew that excruciating suffering with no possible end in view is not conducive to spiritual progress and that it is best to have a fully conscious death in a joyous, religious mood, meditating or listening to scripture and sacred songs to the Gods. So, the Vedic rishis gave, in rare circumstances, the anguished embodied soul a way to systematically, nobly and acceptably, even to loved ones, release itself from embodiment through fasting...
The seers did not want unrelenting pain and hopelessness to be the only possibilities facing a soul whose body was failing, whose only experience was pain without reprieve. So they prescribed a kindly way, a reasonable way, especially for the pain-riddled, disabled elderly and the terminally diseased, to choose a righteous release. What wonderful wisdom. No killer drugs. No violence. No involvement of another human being, with all the karmic entanglements that inevitably produces. No life-support systems. No loss of the family wealth for prolonged health care or into the hands of unscrupulous doctors. No lapsing into unconscious coma. No loss of dignity. No unbearable anguish. And no sudden or impulsive decision -- instead, a quiet, slow, natural exit from the body, coupled with spiritual practices, with mantras and tantras, with scriptural readings, deep meditation, reflection and listening to favorite religious songs, with joyous release, with all affairs settled, with full self-awareness and with recognition and support from friends and relations."
Courtney S. Campbell, PhD, Professor of Ethics, Science, and the Environment in the Department of Philosophy at Oregon State University, wrote in a Jan. 2000 UNESCO Courier article titled "Euthanasia and Religion":
"As a general rule, both Hinduism and Buddhism oppose suicide as an act of destroying life. However, a distinction is made in both traditions between self-regarding (or self-destructive) reasons and other-regarding (or compassionate) motives for seeking death... Those who assist in [a] suicide may... be subject to karmic punishment, for they have violated the principle of ahimsa.
However, a very different perspective emerges when individuals seek death for spiritual motives, of which there are basically two kinds. The first revolves around compassion; concern for the welfare of others as one is dying can be seen as a sign of spiritual enlightenment. So a person can decide to forego treatment to avoid imposing a heavy burden of caregiving on family or friends. He or she may also stop treatment to relieve loved ones of the emotional or economic distress of prolonged dying...
...[T]he primacy of spiritual goals of liberation or compassion relative to the preservation of life... applies to euthanasia through physician injection or administration of a lethal drug. Hindu and Buddhist scholars have found support for this so-called 'active' euthanasia in their traditions by reflecting on the meaning of death as a door to liberation, the culmination of life in detachment from the material world. They then go a step further by linking compassion to the norm of self-similitude: 'one should act towards others as one would have them act toward oneself'. So euthanasia can be seen as a compassionate act or a 'mercy killing' for a dying person striving to the highest purpose of human destiny, liberation.
A moral problem arises with euthanasia, however, if the administered medication renders the patient unconscious or unable to comprehend their descent toward death. The patient is unaware precisely at the moment when he or she should be most sensitive and receptive to spiritual teaching and meaning. For these reasons, other modes of bringing about death are preferable morally and religiously."