In "Euthanasia: Part 1, It's Difficult to Die Today" [Vol. 10/#7], we learned about the unprecedented dilemmas caused by advancing medical technology. Sophisticated techniques and machines can now keep people alive long beyond any hope of recovery or improvement, creating what some call "living corpses."
Four approaches are proposed for terminally ill patients: 1) do everything in our power to extend life regardless of cost, additional suffering to the patient or emotional trauma to the family; 2) cease everything but minimal care after a short time; 3) not only withhold care, but take action likely to hasten or cause death, including denying nutrition and giving overdoses of painkilling drugs; 4) take the ultimate step and to allow the doctor, at the patient's prior request, to kill him with a lethal injection (seriously proposed on the California ballot this year).
Most discussions of this issue are based on materialist philosophy - that is, the belief that there is nothing more to existence than this material, physical universe. This philosophy, which explicitly denies the existence of the soul, is held in common by secular humanists, existentialists and Marxists. Hinduism's knowledge of the soul and the soul's evolution through this outer and other, inner, worlds provides a unique insight into the consequences of euthanasia in its various forms.
Hinduism Today interviewed six Hindu religious leaders on the metaphysics and ethics surrounding dying. We asked three questions: 1) Is it right for a Hindu to request a lethal injection to end his life? 2) Is it right for a Hindu doctor to fulfill such a request? 3) How far should doctors go in prolonging a person's life? As the swamis answered at various lengths and focused on different issues, we summarized their remarks in a one response.
Bandarikashrama, Fremont, California
Euthanasia is a very difficult question. This lethal injection is not known to me in any case. Myself, I would not ask for it. God has given, let God take. As to whether it is correct for a doctor to do it, I have no comment. The life-support machines are a big moral issue. It is a pity to human life to do this kind of thing. If we invented machines to keep people alive, then we have to use them. "Unplugging" them is a difficult question. Each one's life is his own responsibility, he should make the decision. It is not right for someone else to make judgement. But when necessary, the doctor and the family have to decide.
Vivekananda Vedanta Society, Chicago, Illinois
Life has been brought to this world by God, and this life should naturally go, but not by artificial means. We should try to minimize the suffering. Apart from this, nothing should be done. Life does not end at the body's death.
Just because a law [to give lethal injection] is passed in the USA, that doesn't make it right. A Hindu doctor should not do it.
Integral Yoga Institute, Virginia
It is not advisable for anybody to request a lethal injection. It is a form of suicide which will affect their next life.
You don't have to keep the body alive by hooking this and that. At the same time, you don't have to kill the body either. If you cannot treat them, leave it; they will die in the natural way. It is due to certain karma. They are purging out this karma. If you terminate the body before they burn out completely what has to be purged in this life, they have no way of purging it all. So then they have to continue to purge somewhere, even in the next life, because karma has to be purged.
To me, no doctor should [give a lethal injection], even if they make a law. Man-made laws are different from God-made laws.
Saiva Siddhanata Church, Hawaii
The responsibility lies with those who first attempt to prolong a person's physical life. A decision to help or not to help should be carefully considered. The act of putting someone on the life-support system involves the doctor or nurse in the personal karmas of the person. To detach them from the life-support system or give a lethal injection severs the astral "silver cord" connecting the astral body to the physical. Those involved then take on remaining karmas of the patient. No doctor or nurse should be granted a license such as this.
When someone is in a comatose or brain-damaged state, they are not suffering, but are alive, active and happy in their astral body in the Devaloka. They may be living close, as earthbound souls, during this time while their karma unwinds. The astral brain works independently of the physical brain. Those who have traveled astrally know this to be true.
A request from a patient to be released of their karma, of sufferings, which are cleansing and healing, does not give anyone permission to terminate the physical body. Nor should they be allowed to terminate it themselves. Requests such as these should be taken as a sign of weakness and ignored. Every soul must be encouraged to live in the physical body as long as it naturally lasts, so as to experience all karmas, good, bad and mixed, so that these karmas will not be carried into the next incarnation.
A deeper explanation is within the Sanskrit word mumia [see definition at end].
Rajarajeshwari Peedam, Pennsylvania
In India, if a saint wanted to exit the body, he chose a time and left. People who are suffering unto death can be trained to make the exit by using these ancient techniques of the yogis.
I don't believe in artificial means [euthanasia] because there is no opportunity for spiritual growth. Hindu doctors should educate themselves in spiritual laws and precepts. I do not recommend they agree to [lethal injection].
It is appropriate to take a person off a machine, or not hook them up, if they are brain dead. The soul is in a different dimension.
Vedanta Society, Washington
No one's death should be brought about by artificial means. A person has to work out his or her prarabdha karma [karma allotted for this lifetime]. If the life is suddenly cut short, the aftereffect is bad, as it is for a person committing suicide and sometimes in accidental death. Our scriptures very clearly say that this must not be done, because after death that person goes through a lot of suffering.
One doctor gave some drugs to someone who wanted to die, a cancer patient in a state of intense suffering. I don't think that will be considered proper according to our tradition.
Mumia: Sanskrit word naming the essence of life as existing in any severed body part (such as cut hair or shed blood). At death, mumia encompasses the entire physical body. Cut off from the departed soul's kundalini force, the vital force within the body's physical elements becomes dormant and the processes of disintegration and decay set in. Until the separation of the soul has occurred, mumia will not exist.
Next issue, we'll share the thoughts of you, our readers, and attempt to arrive at a Hindu consensus on euthanasia. Please send your comments to: "Euthanasia Issue" P.O. Box 157, Hanamaulu, Hawaii, 96715.