Euthanasia is a subject that many avoid but in today's modern world it is more relevant and something that needs to be discussed. I found a great article that discussed the pro's and con's of euthanasia in the Buddhist traditions:
Voluntary or Involuntary?
In discussing euthanasia, it is useful to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is when death is hastened with the consent of the dying person. Involuntary euthanasia - usually in situations such as brain-death, long-term coma - is when others (the family and/or the medical profession) decide to withdraw life-sustaining medical support. Euthanasia can be further divided between active and passive modes. Active is when something is done to actually hasten death - a lethal injection for example; passive is when life-sustaining treatment is withdrawn and nature therefore takes its course.
So how does Buddhism stand in relation to each of these?
Buddhism places great emphasis on the significance of human life. Of the six realms of traditional Buddhist cosmology, the human realm offers the best opportunity for enlightenment. To take life - one's own or someone else's - is seen to be wrong, something outlined in the first precept which guides us to abstain from killing living beings. On both counts, euthanasia could be seen to be wrong. On the other hand, Buddhism places great emphasis on compassion (karuna). If someone is dying in terrible agony, would it be so wrong to hasten their death - especially with their consent? Would it not be, in fact, an act of compassion?
James: Ever since I began studying Buddhism I always agreed that "to take life - one's own or someone else's - is seen to be wrong." I have always agreed, hoever, with Involuntary euthanasia. However, in recents weeks and days I have really been debating this issue in my mind and I think that now I am much more open to the idea of voluntary euthanasia. For starters, what is so different between voluntary and involuntary means? Either way one's life is being taken via medicine. Anyway, my arguement FOR voluntary euthanasia can be summed up in the following quote from above:
On the other hand, Buddhism places great emphasis on compassion (karuna). If someone is dying in terrible agony, would it be so wrong to hasten their death - especially with their consent? Would it not be, in fact, an act of compassion?
James: It seems to me that the compassionate thing to do would be to allow individuals the choice of voluntary euthanasia so that they may make the decision, not doctors or family members. Now I think that a person should only have this option in the case of being diagnosed with a terminal illness. I do not advocate in using it just to "escape" at any age.
However, I digress.
How much suffering must one go through before our compassion allows them to pass on peacefully? What lessons can be learned in slowly watching yourself (or a loved one) die from cancer as you bleed from every orifice on your body or in spending months wracked in pain throughout your core? You might say that the terrible suffering teaches that suffering is inevitable but what if you have already learned this great teaching? Or, you might answer that modern drugs allow the patient to be quite comfortable during the dying process but I would argue then, "Isn't that already a form of voluntary euthanasia?"
If doctors are going to decide to drug a person up so that they are basically unconscious most of the time then what is the point of that?? What can the family learn from such a situation besides the unnecessary suffering of their loved one? I would think that the loved one's and family and friends would learn more by knowing ahead of time when the person was going to die and that way everyone could spend precious time with their loved one and exchange love and sincere feelings knowing that these would be their last days/hours/minutes with them. It would also allow everyone to arrange to be present upon the passing of the terminally ill person so that no one would have to go through unneccesary suffering by knowing that they missed the last minutes of their loved one's life.
In this regard, does not the terminally ill loved one fully rippen as a Bodhisattva in compassionately allowing their loved ones a chance to reduce their suffering by giving plenty of notice of their passing?
Then their is the issue of our beloved pets (who are often seen as members of the family). We allow pets to be put to sleep so that they might die with dignity and less suffering. It is done as well for us so that we might reduce our suffering in not seeing them needlessly suffer. What then is so different about humans? Yeah, I have heard the arguement that the human life is more precious then the animal life but is it really? Who do we think that we are to hold ourselves above any other creature? Sure we have a greater chance for enlightenment in a human form but that does not necessarily mean voluntary euthanasia flies against that concept. I think the too can go hand in hand. In following the middle path do we not avoid extremes and is not needless suffering going to an extreme??
Some might say that it creates negative karma to kill oneself but do we know that to be true? How many people have died and come back to say that voluntary euthanasia caused them great amounts of negative karma? Sure some things have to be accepted on faith but I think that the differences between postive or negative karma regarding euthanasia are razor thin. If done for the right reasons for eliminating unnecessay suffering then I think that perhaps the karma would in fact be very positive.
I see the point that human life offers great opportunity even in suffering through one's last days but is that really true? Can we say with 100% certainty that voluntary euthanasia is absolutely wrong in every case?? I think that if we are honest with ourselves then we can not say that is true.
And what about in the Jataka stories (stories of the Buddha's previous lives) where, as a Bodhisattva, the Buddha slits his own throat so that starving tiger cubs may feed off his blood? (The Hungry Tigress).
There was also the case of Vietnamese Buddhist monks in the 1960s who set themselves alight in protest against anti-Buddhist policies.
In the end I think we have to follow the Buddha's teachings to think for ourselves and not just blindly follow a teacher who says that "this" is good and "that" is bad. We all have to find our own path and in the end no one can walk it for us. And who knows? Maybe someone's karma IS to pass on via voluntary euthanasia to help family and loved ones understand certain concepts that could not be understood via a long, drawn out death? Or perhaps that person has suffered enough during their life from a crippling brain disorder or physical ailments and has already learned the lessons of suffering? We just don't know and can not say what each person should or should not do with their bodies in regards to a terminal illness.
Now I do not expect many of you to agree with me on this but I wanted to put it out there for you to at least think about and really challenge yourself on what do you actually believe in your heart. Do we follow the "letter of the law" or the "spirit of the law?"
A Possible Perspective (James: I thought this sentence from the article was a great rap up of the issue).
Individual Buddhists will no doubt have different views on euthanasia.
James: I would also recommend reading a great post by my friend Nacho that touches on some of these issues. I especially appreicate the following point:
Besides, Buddhism prides itself in non-dogmatic attachment, even to so called Buddhist doctrine. Zen even more. Buddhists are not all equally bound to "scriptures," and Buddhists tend to heed practice more than rigid adherence to particular "sacred" texts or teachings. So, it would be wrong for me to declare the Buddhist response.
-Peace to all beings-