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Euthanasia and First Buddhist Precept

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#40

Fair point, and killing is clearly wrong. However this discussion is really about allowing people to end their own lives. The grey area is the ethics of helping somebody to end their life. I guess it comes down to intention in the end. If somebody you love is slowly dying and suffering horribly, then helping them to end that might be a very compassionate act.


#41

@Martin It is fair to come to a conclusion so, as it sounds pretty ethical. But the thing is even in that above story the Bhikku kills the other Bhikkhus because they asked him to do so, but still he ends up losing his Bhikkhuship. There is another story also in that paarajika stories about a monk advising a butcher to kill someone who was sentenced for a torturous death to be killed without being tortured. Even in that instance, he loses his Bhikkhuship.
We cannot determine where someone is born after the euthanising process, if he is to be born in a worse place we are simply lessening the time he could be in a human world.
Someone ending their own life is one thing, aiding them to do so will end up causing bad karma to both sides. I say these words with extreme sympathy, not to offence or hurt anyone.
May the Triple Gems Bless You.


#42

Could it be that to be completely compassionate one has to break precepts, or gain bad karma?


#43

As I understand it, kamma is intention, so it’s the motivation behind our actions which is the most important thing.


#44

I try to view these questions as ethical quandaries, that require us to look at the qualities and weight of the kamma that is being undertaken. The First Precept is a training rule, not a law. My sense is that one can break a law, and incur punishment, but this is not necessarily the ethical framework that the Buddha tried to establish with his teachings on kamma. The magnificence of the Buddha’s teaching is the way that it empowers us to study, to meditate and to cultivate wisdom, such that we act in the most ethical ways; not because someone made a law that we are bound to, but because we have gained insight into the most skillful and ethical actions possible for a good life on this Path.

We must as part of our training do all we can to preserve life. But, in some cases, assisting someone with a painful, terminal illness to die in way and at a time of their own accord, vs. undergoing a tortuous, ignoble death that is traumatic to both the patient and the family members witnessing a loved one die this way, is a bright and positive kamma.


#47

It’s a precious human birth. But if you are in pain due to cancer and unconscious how much are you able to meditate on realising the Four Noble truths?! No one is suggesting euthanising healthy people! It IS taking a human life, so there is some bad kamma there. However there is also the good kamma of wanting to release a person from suffering! This is a case of black and white karma, and isn’t straightforward. Also the value given to suicide-euthanasia might be different in different cultures, so we may be talking based on those cultural value systems.


#48

Pain in the human realm is better compared to a lower realm.
This is what @Polarbear has written in detail above.


#49

If a person decided to end their own life in order to shorten a period of great suffering, would that necessarily be dark kamma, given that the act would only be injurious to the person concerned? Though it could be injurious to the persons friends or relatives if they weren’t in agreement?


#50

I find this topic to be not at all straightforward. Leaving aside the Buddhist ethical framework, from a morally utilitarian point of view, there are many cases where euthanasia seems to be the compassionate choice. However, as with almost everything there are always going to be pros and cons. I can think of situations where people would be glad to have this as an option (ugly painful terminal illnesses); however, I can also think of situations where it might generate a negative dynamic.

For example, suppose one has just been diagnosed with early-stage dementia and the future care is likely to fall on some loved one. In a situation with euthanasia available, the sufferer will have to perhaps distressingly consider imminent euthanasia (perhaps out of a desire not to burden the loved one) while they are still mentally competent. Another alternative is to have some kind of living will specifying euthanasia during a later stage of the disease. Of course, the patient at that later stage may still have some understanding of what’s going on and might frantically fight the procedure in spite of the prior instructions (this has actually happened in some cases :frowning: ). If the dementia patient doesn’t choose euthanasia, this may create other dynamics. The hard-pressed stressed-out carer potentially may become resentful. In a situation without availability of euthanasia, everyone may accept that life sometimes is just crap and they just have to get on with things. Having options isn’t always necessarily a good thing. Of course, in earlier times when life was often far harder, old people in some cultures, particularly when food was very short, might often just head off by themselves in winter snow to “go hunting” and never return.

There is also the slippery slope argument: that while it is for the best of intentions, a certain line is being crossed, which can have somewhat corrosive effects on society over time (there can be upsides to coarse sub-optimal but easily arbitrated boundaries). There was a long, very interesting and nuanced article in the Guardian (a well-known left liberal UK newspaper) earlier this year looking at this question with respect to the Netherlands. The Netherlands brought in a euthanasia framework with various protections 17 years ago.

The Netherlands is one of the few examples of a country where euthanasia has been available for an appreciable length of time. It’s quite a balanced article, but certain evidence of the slippery slope does seem evident there (and it’s not all a bed of roses; the articles goes into both pros and cons of the Dutch experience). Plus it’s far yet from being the end of this particular experiment. I reckon we’ll probably have to come back there in another 20 years to get a final more definitive idea of the true trade offs between the lighter and darker sides of euthanasia there. IMO this is a very grey and ambiguous topic.


#52

Yes, its a real can of worms. Interesting to hear about the Netherlands.


#53

The magnitude of samsara, as presented in the suttas, is so great, and the potential consequences of breaking the first precept so great, that even horrific pains suffered in a single human life are considered nothing in comparison to the horrors of samsara and falling to the lower realms, at least from the perspective of the suttas. Therefore, it would follow that it wouldn’t make sense to be in favor of euthanasia if one believes in samsara. It would be akin to thinking that 4>TREE(3)

“Monks, suppose there was a man whose life span was 100 years, who would live to 100. Someone would say to him, ‘Look here, fellow. They will stab you at dawn with 100 spears, at noon with 100 spears, & again at evening with 100 spears. You, thus stabbed day after day with 300 spears, will have a lifespan of 100 years, will live to be 100, and at the end of 100 years you will realize the four noble truths that you have never realized before.’

“Monks, a person who desired his own true benefit would do well to take up (the offer). Why is that? From an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. - SN 56:35  Sattisata Sutta | One Hundred Spears

Near Sāvatthī. There the Blessed One said: “From an inconceivable beginning comes the wandering-on. A beginning point is not discernible, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. What do you think, monks? Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—or the water in the four great oceans?”

“As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the tears we have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—not the water in the four great oceans.”

“Excellent, monks. Excellent. It is excellent that you thus understand the Dhamma taught by me.

“This is the greater: the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—not the water in the four great oceans.

“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a mother. The tears you have shed over the death of a mother while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a father… the death of a brother… the death of a sister… the death of a son… the death of a daughter… loss with regard to relatives… loss with regard to wealth… loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time—crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing—are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

“Why is that? From an inconceivable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries—enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.” - SN 15:3  Assu Sutta | Tears

Then the Blessed One, picking up a little bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, said to the monks, “What do you think, monks? Which is greater: the little bit of dust I have picked up with the tip of my fingernail, or the great earth?”

“The great earth is far greater, lord. The little bit of dust the Blessed One has picked up with the tip of his fingernail is next to nothing. It doesn’t even count. It’s no comparison. It’s not even a fraction, this little bit of dust the Blessed One has picked up with the tip of his fingernail, when compared with the great earth.

“In the same way, monks, few are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn among human beings. Far more are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn in hell. - SN 56:102–113  Paṁsu Suttas | Dust

“Monks, suppose that this great earth were totally covered with water, and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole there. A wind from the east would push it west; a wind from the west would push it east. A wind from the north would push it south; a wind from the south would push it north. And suppose a blind sea turtle were there. It would come to the surface once every one hundred years. Now what do you think? Would that blind sea turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole?”

“It would be a sheer coincidence, lord, that the blind sea turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, would stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole.”

“It’s likewise a sheer coincidence that one obtains the human state. It’s likewise a sheer coincidence that a Tathāgata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, arises in the world. It’s likewise a sheer coincidence that a Dhamma & Vinaya expounded by a Tathāgata appears in the world. Now, this human state has been obtained. A Tathāgata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, has arisen in the world. A Dhamma & Vinaya expounded by a Tathāgata appears in the world.

“Therefore your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is stress … This is the origination of stress … This is the cessation of stress.’ Your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.’” - SN 56:48  Chiggaḷa Sutta | The Hole

Praising death is part of the parajika offense regarding killing humans in the vinaya:

If a monk intentionally kills a human being or seeks an instrument of death for him or praises death or incites someone to die, saying, “Good man, what’s the point of this wretched and difficult life? Death is better for you than life!”—thinking and intending thus, if he praises death in various ways or incites someone to die—he too is expelled and excluded from the community.’”

The motivation is different in the Vinaya story but I don’t think that changes the fact that praising or condoning death to the ill is considered bad in early Buddhism:

At one time a lay follower was sick…

They then went to that lay follower and said, “You’ve done what’s good and wholesome; you’ve made a shelter against fear. You haven’t done anything bad: you haven’t been greedy or immoral. What’s the point of this wretched and difficult life? Death is better for you than life. When you have passed away, you’ll be reborn in a happy place, in heaven. There you’ll be able to enjoy the five kinds of heavenly sense pleasure.”

That lay follower thought, “The Venerables have spoken the truth, for I’ve done what’s good and avoided what’s bad, and after death I’ll be reborn in a happy place.”

From then on he ate various kinds of detrimental food and drank detrimental drinks, and as a consequence, he became seriously ill and died…

The Buddha rebuked them, “Foolish men, it’s not suitable, it’s not proper, it’s not worthy of an ascetic, it’s not allowable, it should not be done. How could you praise death to that lay follower? This will not give rise to confidence in those without it - SuttaCentral

In my understanding of the worldview of the texts, I don’t think there is room for the idea that euthanasia would ever be considered the compassionate choice, whether for an animal or a human. Of course, if one doesn’t share or perhaps only partially shares the worldview of the EBTs then euthanasia may very well be or at least appear to be the compassionate choice in many cases.


#54

Yes you can. See my experience.

Seven days without pain killers.

https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=16532


#55

You were unconscious, and contemplating the Four Noble Truths! Wow!

How about a compassionate answer, embedded in the Buddhist world view, for this dilemma. Unless you believe that the answer to all of life’s moral dilemmas can be fouth in the five precepts:

With metta


#56

I was talking about the pain.
We cant kill a person because sh/e is unconsious.


#57

As a general comment, I regard the precepts as training principles rather than commandments. And sometimes as a way of assessing my progress.


#58

There are experts who have seems many people suffering and dying. There are people’s wishes, which have been recorded. If unconscious, then the closest relatives are approached, with weighing up of the chances of recovering from unconsciousness. It’s not a whimsically performed. Also done under when legal safeguards are met, that is, only in extreme circumstances. It’s not for us to impose on anyone else. It can only apply to oneself.


#59

What’s the difference in practice?


#60

I think its the difference between making ethical decisions based on a degree of insight, rather than following a moral code learned in childhood. A deeper understanding of why certain behaviours are unskillful, and the possible outcomes. Though of course to some extent this development is a product of life experience.


#61

I ask because it is a common statement among western Buddhists that the precepts are principles or guidelines and not commandments and it usually sounded to me that the subtext was that it’s fine to break the precepts if it seems reasonable to do so because they aren’t commandments.


#62

Yes, I’ve come across that attitude. It could be a way of rationalising bits of unskillful behaviour, but I also wonder if its about people not liking the idea of conforming to “external” rules.