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GBC Thoughts On… Euthanasia

Saturday, 05 February 2011 / Published in Editorial / 2,999 views

While the teachings of our acaryas and the scriptural precedents to which we aspire teach us compassion for every living entity and mercy to all, it is understood by Vaisnavas that these two qualities are based on the tenets of transcendental knowledge that require conscious intelligence to understand. When applying these qualities to the subject of euthanasia, therefore, it is understood that this seemingly kind act does not, in fact, end anyone’s suffering, nor does it embody the spirit of compassion or mercy. That one is suffering a painful death is understood by Vaisnavas to be the result of past activities, karma, and elimination of one’s present suffering does not eliminate the root cause but only postpones [it] to a later date. While compassion and mercy are required when one is observing another’s pain, suffering, or death, it is humility that is the key to understanding that pain and suffering in context. Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 1.17.22:

“A devotee’s conclusion is that no one is directly responsible for being a benefactor or mischief-monger without the sanction of the Lord; therefore he does not consider anyone to be directly responsible for such action. But in both the cases he takes it for granted that either benefit or loss is God-sent, and thus it is His grace. In case of benefit, no one will deny that it is God-sent, but in case of loss or reverses one becomes doubtful about how the Lord could be so unkind to His devotee as to put him in great difficulty. Jesus Christ was seemingly put into such great difficulty, being crucified by the ignorant, but he was never angry at the mischief-mongers. That is the way of accepting a thing, either favourable or unfavourable. Thus for a devotee the identifier is equally a sinner, like the mischief-monger.”

It is also understood, by dint of this same transcendental knowledge, that a soul takes birth in a particular body for a prescribed amount of time, and any attempt to alter that time mechanically or by unnatural means results in further karmic reactions. While it is understood that the pain a person is suffering is the motivating factor for some euthanasia cases, it is also a statistical fact that the majority of reasons are, according to Harvard Medical School studies, “a way of avoiding the complex and arduous efforts required… to ensure that dying patients receive humane, dignified care.”

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