Euthanasia is a key ethical issue for our time. It is a polarising subject for many people and there are a number of thoughts surrounding it both for and against.
All Christians believe that euthanasia breaks the commandment “thou shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13)
The Bible makes it clear that humans are not meant to choose when they die.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck what is planted” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)
Most Christians argue that people do not own their lives. Life is God’s gift and only he has the right to terminate it.
Christians use palliative care to support the dying and their families.
The process of dying is spiritually important and should not be interrupted.
Death is to be surrounded by God’s love and euthanasia rejects God’s love and presence.
Many denominations believe that the period just before death is a profoundly spiritual time and it is wrong to interfere with this as it interrupts the spirit moving towards God.
Christians feel that even the smallest legalisation of euthanasia would lead to a slippery slope where the ill and elderly could feel obliged to commit euthanasia to avoid being a burden.
Birth and death are part of the life processes which God created and so we should respect them.
No human being has the authority to take the life if any innocent person, even if that person wants to die. To propose euthanasia for an individual is to judge that the current life of that person is not worthwhile, this goes against the intrinsic worth and dignity each person has.
Arguments based on the quality of life are irrelevant as all life is valuable as it is created in God’s image.
All Christians believe in the importance of palliative care to support the dying. They believe the use of painkillers to help suffering as they do not believe death should be prolonged.
Euthanasia has been condemned by the Catholic Church since 1943. The Catechism states “whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons it is morally unacceptable.” (2277)
However the Catholic Church allows the turning off of life support machines because the Catechism also states “Discontinuing treatment that is burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate, it is the refusal of overzealous treatment” (2278)
The Catholic Church also agree with the use of painkillers to alleviate suffering, even at the risk of hastening death as the Catechism states it “can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as an end or a means” (2279)
No mention of euthanasia in scripture so Muslims turn to traditions on suicide and murder. Suicide is prohibited in Islam as only Allah can take away life. Death is at the time allotted by Allah. This is interpreted as a condemnation of active euthanasia.
The Islamic Code of Medical Ethics equates euthanasia with scriptural references to suicide. The Quran says “Do not destroy yourselves, surely Allah is ever merciful to you” (4:29)
Allah is the owner of life, and a person has the responsibility to preserve and prolong it. Muslims believe God determines a fixed Ajal (span of life) for every person.
The Quran says “when their time comes they cannot delay it for as single hour nor can they bring it forward by a single hour” (16:61)
In the Hadith the example of a wounded man killing himself so he did not suffer was deprived entry into heaven.
Euthanasia is not included among the reasons for killing in Islam.
In the Quran it says “ Do not take life, which Allah made sacred, other than in the course of justice” (17:33)
It is forbidden for a Muslim to plan or come to know through self-will the time of his death in advance.
This comes from the Prophet Mohammed refusing to bless the body of a person who had committed suicide.
When a person is suffering from unbearable pain, a Muslim is advised to remember that it is a test from Allah and that we must be patient. Hardships and suffering of this life are a test of a person’s faith and consciousness, so Muslims should not run away from the difficulties of life. End of life suffering purifies previous sins so you meet death in a pure state.
The Quran says “those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure” (39:10)
The community has a responsibility to support the suffering. Muslims are advised to comfort those who are suffering and provide palliative care.
Muslims however do not believe in keeping people alive through heroic means. This means doctors can stop trying to prolong life in cases where there is no fop of a cure and it could be seen to be preventing death.
According to the Islamic Medical Association of America “when death becomes inevitable as determined by physicians, the patient should be allowed to die without unnecessary procedures” IMANA say that turning of life support machines is for those in permanent vegetative states is acceptable but hastening death with painkillers is not.
Jewish faith teaches life is a blessing from God, hastening death is the same as murder. This applies to euthanasia and assisted suicide. Active euthanasia is always forbidden even if the person wants to die. Our lives are not ours to dispose of as we wish.
Dr Rachamin Melamed Cohen said “the message of Judaism is that one must struggle until the last breath of life. Until the last moment, one has to live and rejoice and give thanks to the creator”
Only God gives life so only God can take it away. Human bodies are his property and only he can decide their fate.
Fred Rosner states “to Jews life has infinite value … man was created in the image of God, humans beings are old and must be treated with dignity and respect, both during life and death”
Shulhan Arukh believes dying person has the same rights as the alive and “it is forbidden to cause him to die quickly”
The Talmud states that “he who shoots a man as he falls off a cliff to certain death is guilty of murder” even though he life was only shortened by a few minutes.
There is no reference in the Torah to euthanasia but Jews apply the commandment “thou shalt not murder” as well as other passages about death and suicide.
In the Torah, King Saul orders a young soldier to kill him so he is not captured injured in battle, when King David finds out he has the solder executed for Murder. Scholars apply this passage to euthanasia and assisted suicide.
According to Jewish Law a Goses (terminally ill patient expected to die in the next 72 hours) is still a human being in all respects.
Lord Jakobovits, former UK Chief Rabbi said “the value of human life is infinity and beyond measure, so that any part of life- even if only an hour or second is of precisely the same worth as seventy years”
Nothing should be done to shorten life, however neither should death be prolonged.
Orthodox Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg does not allow the withdrawal of any treatment but allows the administering of painkillers to ease suffering of those close to death even if that may speed up the death process.
Some conservative Rabbis permit the turning off of life support machine when there is no possibility of recovery but not the cessation of artificial hydration and nutrition. If treatment does not cure illness but prolong life temporarily, then treatment can be withdrawn.
Rabbi Judah the Pious ruled that one should remove obstacles which prevent death.
No formal teaching on assisted suicide or euthanasia.
Human life is sacred and a rarity given the abundance of possible life forms.
Therefore Hinduism discourages Euthanasia as one should wait for the Kala (appointed time) of death.
Hinduism is against all forms of unnecessary killing and so there is no justification for euthanasia.
Ending a life prematurely will negatively impact on their Karma.
Suffering experience now is because of something that happened in a previous life.
So if you circumvent Karma by taking action to end suffering, that suffering will still be with you in the next life as the same Karma is still present.
Dharma requires Hindus to take care of older members of their family or community.
Euthanasia separates the soul and the body at an unnatural time. This has dire consequences for the soul’s spiritual progress towards Moksha (liberation).
Euthanasia damages the karma of all people involved.
Hindus try to end their lives in a good state, making sure there is no unhappiness.
Hindus believe that euthanasia cannot be allowed as it breaches the teaching of Ahimsa (non-violence).
In Hinduism the ideal death is a conscious death so palliative care can be used to help suffering for the terminally ill.
Some Hindus agree with euthanasia as the person who helps end a painful life is reducing suffering which is doing a good deed.
A person can choose to avoid treatment to avoid a heavy burden of care or prolonged dying.
When a body has served its purpose and become a burden, Prayopavesa (fasting to death) is an acceptable way for a Hindu to end their life but only in certain circumstances.
It is acceptable because it is non-violent and uses natural means.
It is only used when it is the right time for this life to end, unlike suicide; it is a gradual process giving ample time for the person to prepare themselves and those around them for their death.
It is only suitable for elderly aesthetics and is associated with serenity, death must be imminent.
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami took his life by Prayopavesa in 2011 after finding he had terminal cancer; he died on the 32nd day of his self-imposed fast.
The teachings of Buddha do not explicitly deal with Euthanasia.
Whilst life might be difficult, cutting it short means the potential for spiritual development in a human rebirth is thrown away.
Buddhism sees acts which harm yourself as morally wrong. It is morally wrong to destroy human life even one’s own.
Buddhism does not differentiate between active and passive euthanasia as the intention is the same to hasten death.
Ending a person’s life even if they want you to will negatively affect both your karma and theirs.
Buddhist are taught to accept suffering and try to overcome it. Physical suffering causes mental distress but this should not be allowed to cloud judgements.
If they seek euthanasia to avoid suffering, the suffering will still be there in their next rebirth.
Involvement in any form of euthanasia has to be thought about in terms of physical and spiritual harm to oneself or another. This includes putting pressure on the ill or elderly to make them feel as if they are a burden.
Suffering in this life many not end with death and continues on with that person’s karma into the next life.
Shortening life interferes with the working out of karma and alters the karmic balance resulting in effects in future lives.
Buddhism supports the ideals of the hospice movement. They believe a person’s state of mine and death can, within limits of their karma, determine the kind of rebirth they might have.
Buddhists should support those near to death so they can make the transition into their next life in the right frame of mind.
To die in a calm state free of agitation, anger or denial, whilst recollecting good deeds rather than regretting bad actions means a good transition to the next life.
Buddhists are taught to have respect for life, even is that life is not being lived in optimal physical and mental health.
However they do not agree to going to extraordinary lengths to preserve a dying person’s life.
The Dalai Lama however taught that death should not be prolonged.
Treatment which is futile and unduly burdensome can be refused or withdraw as long as there is no intention to take life, no moral problem arises.
The intentions are very important to avoid prolonging death or to avoid responsibilities to an elderly loved one for example.
All Sikhs are taught to accept what God gives as an expression of His divine will.
They emphasis loving care of anyone suffering.
There is no place in Sikhism for deliberately ending the life on the incurably ill or irreversibly senile.
Sikhs have a high respect for life as it is a gift from God and although it may be joyful or sorrowful, long or short, no one but God has the right to shorten it.
Most Sikhs are against euthanasia as they believe the timing of birth and death should be left in God’s hands.
The Guru Granth Sahib says “They come when the Lords sends them, when the Lord calls they back they go” (Ang 907)
The Rahit Maryada says that murder is wrong as it damages a soul.
The Sikh Gurus rejected suicide and most Sikhs apply this to euthanasia as it interferes with God’s plans.
Death is seen as a gateway into another life.
The Guru Granth Sahib says “The dawn of a new death is the herald of a sunset. Earth is not your permanent home” (Ang 793)
Suffering is part of Karma and human beings should accept it without complaint but act so as to make the best of the situation that karma has given them.
Sikhs are taught to care for others who are less fortunate.
Palliative care is to be provided so that euthanasia does not need to be an option.
Sikhs pray for grace, strength and courage to endure and accept pain. The suffering they experience is an expression of God’s will.
Sikhism teaches that there is a divine spark in all human beings which is a part of God.
All 10 Gurus believed in life after death and this affects Sikh life giving it meaning and purpose.
Euthanasia is considered wrong because any harm done to humans is wrong and creates bad karma, which prevents mukti (release from rebirth).
To practice euthanasia is making oneself equal to God, the worst from or Manmukh (selfish behaviour) and will create bad karma.
However Sikhs do not believe in artificially prolonging a terminal state. They accept the turning off of life support machines if a person is brain dead.
They believe striving to keep someone alive is preventing the law of Karma. If people are kept alive artificially it means their soul cannot be released which is the aim of death.