What is the Vedic perspective on euthanasia?
From: Vikas Dhawan
request you to please let me know the vedic perspective on euthanasia (mercy killing). is it allowed? from SB we know that Bhisma dev had the benediction that he will leave his body only on his own accord at a time that he desired, however in euthanasia the patient is not capable enough of making a rationale decision on whether to live or leave the body. how should we understand this from a vedic perspective.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to clarify my doubts.
Transcribed by: Dr Suresh Gupta
Edited by: Sharan Shetty
Question: What is the Vedic perspective on euthanasia? Can the passing away of Bhishma pitamah be called as euthanasia?
Answer: The example of Bhisma pitamah is not really relevant to euthanasia. In euthanasia, a person wants to end life unnaturally and prematurely in order to avoid incurable pain. In contrast, Bhishma pitamah, although he was in pain, still wanted to prolong his life so that he could see the prosperity of his grandsons, the Pandavas. The above two principles are radically different. Bhishma had the advantage to reduce his pain by departing from his body on the tenth day of Mahabharata war when he fell. However, he stayed on for a higher purpose despite pain. On the other hand, in euthanasia, people want to cut short their lives.
From the Vedic perspective euthanasia is certainly not acceptable. We are given the body due to our past karma and we have to live in this body for a particular period of time. In that period, we have to endure certain amount of karmic reactions. If we try to avoid them by prematurely destroying the body, then all that we gain is more karmic reactions to endure.
We endure more karmic reactions because we destroyed the body prematurely which was entrusted to us by God. It is like a suicide, which is sinful. It may seem like an easy escape from sufferings, but it is important to understand that we cannot evade sufferings by prematurely destroying the body. We will get a future body to endure those sufferings, and suicide only makes it worse because now we have to suffer even more. That is why the concept of euthanasia or mercy killing is certainly not acceptable.
According to some surveys, actually it is not “mercy killing” rather it is “convenience killing”. The person may want to live but the person’s relatives or the support staff do not want to take care of the person anymore. For the sake of convenience, often the person is given some injection to end the life.
Vedic understanding is that let nature follow its course. We do not accelerate death by taking some substances because that is nothing but a medically assisted suicide. On the other hand, Vedic philosophy also does not recommend prolonging life using artificial support systems for a very long time. When the doctors say there is not much chance of recovery and the body is in a dysfunctional state then keeping the support system is not recommended. Srila Prabhupada has explained how we are a spirit soul in a material body and if the body has become dysfunctional, the soul has to go to a new body. There is no need to stay attached.
There is another question to a similar topic whose answer you can find on this website,
Can we extend our lives by medicines?
There is one kind of voluntarily accepted death which might seem like euthanasia, but it is different. It is called prayavrata which means a person decides to fast to death. Prayavrata may seem like euthanasia or suicide but on the contrary it is a religious way of departing from the body. When a person feels he has no desire to live (out of intense material detachment or spiritual realization) then as a matter of austerity the person enters into a state of religious or devotional transcendence through meditation and shuts himself or herself off from the world. In that way, the person gives up the body. This is substantially different from euthanasia because the person has not taken any artificial substances to cut out the pain, nor has the person in any way violated the laws of the nature.
Fasting is considered to be a sacred activity. Generally, people fast for a day or so, e.g. on ekadashi and many other important tithis, but there are people who will fast longer. The purpose of fasting is not to torture the body but when the body is no longer capable of functioning then there is no point in prolonging the body. There was an ISKCON sannyasi, His Holiness Narmada Maharaj, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease which made it impossible for him to do any service. When he decided to do prayavrata, many devotees tried and encouraged him to eat food but he gave a very devotional reply (shows that although his body was out of control but his consciousness was fairly controlled). He said that my body is meant to serve Krishna but if my body cannot serve Krishna then there is no reason to maintain this body? Here is a clear understanding that we are not our body and the body is just a tool for serving Krishna. If the tool cannot serve that purpose, then what is the need to maintain that tool. This should not be mistaken as an escape consciousness, it is actually transcendental consciousness. Very few people can have this kind of consciousness.
In general, euthanasia is strongly discouraged. Instead the person should be encouraged to try and absorb his mind in Krishna so that not only he gets relief from the pain by absorption in Krishna but can also get purification. There is a story on this website (How my cancer became a blessing) about one female devotee, Surapriya Mataji, which shows that how absorption in Krishna can provide relief from the pain at the time of death.
Shortly speaking, she had breast cancer which spread through her bones and she wanted to have euthanasia administered but her sons who were devotees were against it. They told her not to do it and asked her to absorb herself in Krishna and she took that advice to her heart which changed her life. She lived an exemplary life for the last six-seven months. The point is, certainly we do not want to be hard hearted and sentence pain to people who are suffering but at the same time, we have to understand that sentimental or quick fix solutions to avoid sufferings may end up in making the sufferings worse. Whereas courageously facing sufferings and transcending those by absorbing in Krishna can offer much greater salve to the person.
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