Euthanasia and Religion

Euthanasia and Religion

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Euthanasia and Religion

Euthanasia is the inducement of a gentle and easy death. It is
considered to be a form of suicide. Yet the procedure requires the
assistance of a third party, due to the potential incapacity of the
individual requesting this procedure be carried out. The case could
then be turned into one of homicide. As a result of this, it is
incredibly difficult to find an individual who is willing to aid in
the conduct of euthanasia, as they could face prosecution in a
criminal court on the charge of murder.

Patients who request euthanasia are often motivated by terminal
illness. They appreciate that further medical treatments are unable to
cure, or deacelerate, the illness. They also wish to preserve their
dignity and conclude their painful suffering. Another example where a
patient may want to opt for euthanasia, is when health authorities
suggest they go into a hospice especially designed to cope with their
illness. A wish to maintain their independence, along with the desire
not to continue to be a burden on other family members, then becomes
the motivation.

Perspectives on the ethical issues are vastly variable on this topic,
across the social spectrum. An argument against the practice of
euthanasia, commonly starts with religion. The sixth commandment in
the Christian Bible states, 'Thou shalt not kill'. This implies that
the act would be committed with violence; a criminal act, where the
victim believes that they have a life worth living and would prefer
not to be killed. There would have been no comforting way to induce
death at the time when the Bible was written. Euthanasia however, is
mercy killing. A death where the recipient believes their life is not
worth living and they want an end to their suffering. Thanks to modern
medicines, the end of suffering can be carried out in a humane way.
Therefore to directly associate this commandment to euthanasia is
misleading and the text should rather read, 'Thou shalt not help to

A majority of the religious opposition to euthanasia comes from the

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Roman Catholic church. The Vatican's 1980 declaration on euthanasia
states, 'suffering has a special place in God's saving plan'. The Pope
also reiterated that Catholics "must obey or risk losing eternal
salvation". Dr Edmund Pellegrino is a devout Catholic and an authority
on medical ethics. He was quoted as claiming he, "could never carry
out a mercy killing because of his religion". Yet when reminded that
it was often Catholics who approved of war. Dr Pellegrino replied,
"that he was a lifelong pacifist". There appears to be a conflict
between one of his church's fundamental beliefs and his own personal

Opposition to euthanasia also comes from Muslim teachings; 'When their
time comes they cannot delay it for a single hour, nor can they bring
it forward by a single hour' (Qur'an 16.61), translated as, only Allah
can choose the length of life a person has. The Jewish faith also
holds very similar views. They preach of an injured King Saul,
ordering a young soldier to kill him after a battle, to avoid him
being captured alive. King David later had the soldier executed for
murder, stating that superior orders were valueless compared to those
of an individuals' conscience.

Three religions come close to the acceptance of euthanasia. The first
is Hinduism, which concentrates on the consequences of actions. Their
doctrines outline that euthanasia cannot be allowed, as it breaches
the teaching of ahimsa (doing harm). However, in contrast to this,
doing a good deed would be fulfilling a moral obligation. The second
is Buddhism. Buddhists believe the way a life ends, will influence
greatly the way the next life begins. The transition between an
existing life and the next depends on an individual's 'Karma' at the
point of death; however, there is no telling if the next life will be
an improvement from the last. When a Buddhist dies their state of mind
should be selfless, enlightened, free of anger, hate or fear. Buddha
himself demonstrated a tolerance of suicide and in the last century,
Buddhist monks practiced it as a political weapon, as a protest
against the Vietnam War. The Japanese Samurai culture is the third
tradition to play host to a form of euthanasia. Originally when a
warrior lost his battle, and was imminently going to face death from
the enemy, or was so badly wounded he could no longer be a useful
member of his society, they would opt for a mercy killing from a third
party. Today's Seppuku Ritual is carried out on the same basis. If an
individual believes that disease is bringing him imminent death, he
will self-inflict a serious stab wound. Once this has been achieved,
the third party will then behead him, to bring death about swiftly and
reduce the time of his suffering.

Most interpretations of the west's Christian Bible, concludes that the
gift of life given to us by 'God' is sacrosanct. As a result it is
only His decision when to terminate that life. However, the Bible also
believes that 'God' created animals, so therefore we ought to apply
the same rule to animals and indeed, to deny a swift, merciful death
to a suffering and terminally ill dog is a punishable offence,
according to law. Christians also argue that man is not an animal,
because he has an immortal soul, but if the human race is
significantly different from animals, surely this treatment should
better, if not the same. Currently there are strong movements in North
America, Western Europe and countries of the British Commonwealth, to
legalize the careful practise of euthanasia, if a dog's suffering can
be legally terminated, why not a man's?

These beliefs are mainly Christian and Jewish, but today's Britain is
primarily a secular society, with ever decreasing numbers of
worshippers' actually making efforts to attend church services.

It seems that today's churchgoers would rather take a 'pick and
choose' attitude about their faith and what element of it they follow.
Arguments against euthanasia from ancient texts, such as the Bible and
Koran, who believe that mercy killing should be legalised are not
convincing for the 29% of non believers in the United Kingdom.



DAVIES Jean Choice In Dying Ward Lock 1997 Religion and Ethics N/A 2004
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