It is worth examining, in a Buddhist context, the move by the Victorian parliament to bring in laws permitting euthanasia.
Euthanasia, the victim
First off, consider the individual requesting euthanasia. According to their perception, they are suffering. So they seek to put an end to this misery. Of course, different individuals can handle a range of degrees of pain and suffering. Indeed, some can withstand terrible pain without being disturbed by it. Yet others consider the “indignity” of incontinence too much suffering to take.
But whatever level of suffering one decides is too much, we must ask the question. Is it reasonable to accept that euthanasia is the solution? Obviously, what the person suffering and requesting euthanasia assumes is that life is the actual cause of their suffering. Thus, by removing the cause of suffering, by ending life, they think they will end suffering.
Will death do the job?
This further assumes that the end of life, death, is the end of consciousness. Thus death ends experiences of pain or joy. Significantly, this assumes no continuity of consciousness, no life beyond death. This long-held materialist philosophy is popular these days among atheists and scientists. But do they have a correct assessment of the true cause of suffering? Do they have a proper understanding of consciousness?
Unquestionably, to remove suffering you must remove its actual cause. Hence, this was the decisive question that the Buddha addressed in his first teaching.
He taught the four Noble Truths. Specifically, these are true suffering, true cause of suffering, true cessation of suffering and true path to the cessation.
How a materialist would approach the four is as follows. I have suffering and pain. The cause is that I am alive. Death will be the cessation of pain. The path to that cessation is euthanasia’s needle or pill.
So will this work? Unfortunately, there is no proof euthanasia removes suffering for we have no proof that consciousness ceases at death. At the present time there is no scientific evidence, nor any logical theory, to support this misleading assumption. Thus, for the atheist whether death will end suffering is a roll of the dice. There is no one who can assure you it will. Conversely, billions (of religious) will assure you it will not.
How do you stop the pain?
The Buddha maintained in his four truths that the true cause of suffering is negative karma. In effect, negative karma arises from non-virtues such as anger, attachment, jealousy and fear. In turn, these arise from ignorance. So overcoming negative karma, non-virtue, and their root in ignorance, will cause suffering and pain to cease. Finally, the path to that cessation is training the mind in ethics, meditation, and wisdom.
All four truths are consciousness. Thus, suffering, cause, cessation and path are all consciousness. Given this, none are the body which ceases at death.
In addition, the Buddha explained that consciousness continues beyond death and gave many proofs and illustrations of this. (We examined how consciousness continues in this article on reincarnation.)
Life after death
Of course, there is no scientific evidence for the continuity of consciousness yet. Science’s best chance of getting to this is studies into near death experiences. Indeed, they are just now discovering that consciousness continues beyond the point of heart and brain function. In light of this, we must accept that consciousness is not just an emergent property of the brain as science likes to imagine at the moment. Most important, this will be a major step forward in scientific understanding and could help science develop a coherent theory of consciousness. If and when they do, I am sure that it will resemble the Buddhist model.
Why is this important? Because consciousness is the experiencer of suffering and pain. Although the body sends the signals, consciousness perceives them. Felt experience is consciousness. Furthermore, consciousness carries karma, and this is what continues beyond death. As I have said, the four noble truths are consciousness. Thus suffering is consciousness, and so is pain. In comparison the body is irrelevant to the continuity of suffering and pain. In the final analysis death does not end consciousness, so it cannot end pain and suffering.
What happens then?
The person asking for euthanasia is just adding more suffering. Understandably it may hurt to realise this, but it is true. Their current pain results from negative karma. It doesn’t matter if you understand karma or not, cause still produces effect. In other words, **it happens.
To ask for euthanasia creates two further serious and heavy negative karmas. Firstly, you commit suicide, you give up on life, you let pain defeat you and make you its victim. The second is even worse. Because you cause another person to kill. Consequently they create a complete negative karma of killing. But you create twice that negative karma by ordering/requesting them to kill. Under those circumstances you involve more people with a chain of command, and they may be those closest to you.
So here you are. In immense pain. Then you add to the negative karma causing that pain in a horrendous way, right near death. Most importantly, this is the decisive time determining what comes next. So you have just blown your next life to hell. There is no way you can avoid being reborn in the state of pure pain and the unimaginable agony of hell. Whether you believe in karma or not it will happen.
Certainly you may have intense pain and great suffering before death. But euthanasia will make it much worse. You will go into unimaginable, excruciating, interminable pain. This happens to the willing victim of euthanasia. The poor devils have so much negative karma they suffer great pain. In truth through tragic ignorance they imagine euthanasia is the way out. But it only makes it worse. Undeniably they condemn themselves to interminable pain of magnitudes greater. Think again…. Please…
So what can we do?
What alternative can we give these poor souls? At the present time extraordinary palliative treatments are available. Even those worried for their dignity, will be consoled by how professional our nurses are. Don’t worry, no one is that interested in how you present.
The best thing we can do is use whatever time we have left to generate virtue and purify negative karma. Of course Buddhists know this. So, be patient and tolerant of the suffering and pain. Learn to bear and manage your pain. In some cases there may still be time to learn how to meditate to help with pain management. Certainly if you have such skills, now is the time to use them. Show consideration to others. At least do not ask them to kill and create the karma of great suffering for themselves. Most important, consider the time you still have with loved ones. So appreciate the gift of life, your time with them. Forgive any grudges. Above all be courageous and determined to endure until death without giving in and becoming a victim.
With luck you may exhaust your negative karma and thus after death your suffering will cease. Further, the virtue you have practised at that crucial time before death will lead your consciousness into a heavenly and blissful state after death.
At worst you will mitigate your negative karma and at least experience less suffering.
But what of compassion? Aren’t Buddhists supposed to be compassionate?
Okay then. You see your loved one suffering in great pain. So your response is that in their moment of extreme pain, at their time of greatest need, when they are most vulnerable and in your power, you push them into far greater pain. You ramp up their suffering a million fold. You agree to euthanize them. What sort of cruelty is that? That is worse than anything because they are your loved one. Thus it is the complete opposite of compassion. Compassion is the wish to free someone from suffering, not cause them more!
On the other hand the compassionate Buddhist will counsel them how to live through pain and suffering with patience. Further they will be able to explain how to approach death from having made a serious study of living and dying. Definitely, through real love and real compassion they will protect them at all costs from the State Executioner. Most certainly they will not give in to any request for assisted suicide.
The only compassionate response is to protect people from causing themselves and others more and greater suffering. Of course, we can only advise people of the tragic repercussions of suicide. We can try to convince them. This is the battlefront Lifeline and others occupy hourly. So what sort of message does euthanasia send? How can civilised beings encourage suicide? Where is their compassion?
But I do not accept or understand karma and reincarnation?
Undoubtably the arguments I have made only make complete sense in the light of the continuity of consciousness. In the light of karma and reincarnation there can be no argument. But many argue that they simply do not hold these Buddhist views. Regardless, the continuity of consciousness, the dynamic of cause and effect and the four noble truths operate whether you believe in them or not. So the fortunate understand these fundamental principles and thus know how to behave. By comparison, if we do not hold this knowledge we are blind. Consequently we will continue the wanton cruelty and viciousness of those determined to ignore reality. We will take part in the negative karma of euthanasia. In the end we become an heir to Hitler, Mao and Stalin’s efforts in social engineering through killing.
The scales of karma
If you kill you create the karma to be reborn in hell, in utter agony. At the same time when you cause others to kill you create two lots of this karma. Further, if you introduce and promote a bill for euthanasia, you create this karma for every person subjected to euthanasia in this state forever. Surely no one wants so much negative karma. Surely you could not cause such suffering knowingly.
If you vote for that bill you create the same negative karma as the person who introduced it. Basically if you support that bill you will take part in that negative karma. Obviously, this bill is creating a tsunami of bad karma and suffering.
On the other hand if you help people to avoid suicide and the euthanasia needle, you will create virtuous karma and if you deplore the bill and in no way support it, you will also create karma on the side of life, love and light.
The intensity of your commitment either way strengthens the karma.
But I cannot bear to watch another suffer.
This emotional response has fuelled much of the pro-euthanasia push. Of course any civilised person finds it hard to watch someone in pain when you can do little to help. Those in favour of euthanasia imagine they are being compassionate by ending suffering. Of course they are not, but they really insist.
In like manner, some would argue that they do not create so much negative karma if motivated by compassion. But, they still create enormous negative karma because their compassion is mixed with deep ignorance. It is more imagined compassion than actual compassion. They lack wisdom because they cannot see that euthanasia creates even more suffering.
So whilst their intent is not malicious their action, or karma, is. Their action causes incredible pain and suffering. The person they want to kill will not have their suffering taken away. So they harm not only the dying person, but themselves and everyone else they talk into their mad scheme. Any trace of real compassion will not outweigh the extreme level of ignorance involved.
Further, the fantasists and dreamers assuming they are doing good in introducing the bill make out they are compassionate. But, like most who subvert compassion’s real meaning to suit their political activism, they are creating suffering and pain, not easing it. They play on vulnerable people’s emotions to advance their social and political cause. The compassionate person has a real commitment to relieve others’ suffering. Thus they seek the wisdom enabling them to do that. Compassion without wisdom is not real compassion!
But your entire argument is religious. I am a non-believer.
Unsurprisingly, I can only put the Buddhist perspective. In defence of that position, the entire Buddhist enterprise is to engage with what is true, to know reality. Thus the tradition has many treatises on death, suffering, causality, consciousness, embodiment, karma and reincarnation, logic and metaphysics. As a result we spend many years making a comprehensive study of these subjects.
The Buddhist path is to cut through ignorance and become Enlightened. You become enlightened by realising ultimate and conventional truth. At the present time, science is beginning to discover something of Buddhist teachings on meditation and mindfulness. Their findings agree with what Buddhists have known for millennia. It is not unreasonable to think that science may one day come to understand the nature of consciousness and the nature of form and find agreement with Buddhists.
So it is foolishness to dismiss the Buddhist view. Every religion holds a view of life after death. Billions think this way. Conversely, there is a tiny number of atheist materialists who, with no evidence, dispute that.
Church and State?
Emphatically they should be separate. Religions do not want the State interfering in their affairs. Conversely, the State does not want the religious to interfere with secular matters.
But religions must acknowledge the State’s laws. They are participants in the same society. Further, the State should seek advice on the moral and ethical issues from those expert in that orbit. They should appreciate spiritual imperatives and take heed of the religious who hold the welfare of beings at heart.
In that case secular leaders would not lead their people into terrible individual and group karma. They would not pull the shroud of darkness and misery over their state. They could never endorse euthanasia.
So, yes, this is a religious view.
The secular way
If you want a secular argument, this article by Paul Keating is well put together. He speaks of crossing the Rubicon and hints at the slide which can follow. To the great concern of the Germans, Hitler introduced euthanasia when elected in 1933. He used the Trojan horse of terminal illness as justification. Look where that led!
The pro camp insist that you can give protection in legislation. But, which legislation has seen no corruption. Social security? Tax law? Superannuation? See if you can name one.
And when has the state exerted its influence over a part of your life and then left it there or even lessened its control? Never! It creeps forward to ever greater control, now even over life and death. So beware the State!
The absurdity of a professed concern over suicide while promoting euthanasia is an outstanding hypocrisy. On the one hand you introduce laws banning the death penalty for murderous psychopaths saying it is not right to kill another person. Then you order Doctors to kill their patients. It is madness.
Doubtless this blog is a pointless exercise. If you got this far, you will be Buddhist and know karma and reincarnation. The arguments I make persuade Buddhists and Hindus, but that’s it. Talk about preaching to the choir.
For others it will have no impact. They imagine karma and reincarnation are Buddhist fantasies and that medical science knows what is going on.
So we keep running our little meditation classes.
We keep explaining Buddhist principles.
We keep talking about karma and reincarnation.
We keep hoping more seek the truth.
We hope they ask the big questions.
We hope they think deeply.
We hope they find peace and happiness.
We hope a lot.
The take away