Religious Studies

Hinduism: euthanasia

Euthanasia is not suicide but the assisted ending of someone's life who is suffering. Most religions offer teaching on euthanasia and the end of life.

Types of euthanasia

Euthanasia is illegal in the United Kingdom but it was legalised in certain circumstances in the Netherlands in 2002 and assisted suicide was legalised in the State of Oregon (USA) in 1997.

There are two principal types of euthanasia:

  • voluntary euthanasia - the person concerned asks someone to help them die, perhaps by asking for help to take an overdose of painkillers
  • involuntary euthanasia - euthanasia is carried out without the patient’s consent, for example, if they are in a persistent vegetative state and no longer able to live without a lifesupport machine, which is then switched off

Remember that a person's decision to take their own life is known as 'suicide'.

Hindu attitudes towards euthanasia

Hinduism teaches that people should be cared for until they die. Although Hindus have no religious objection to life-support machines, death is seen as a door into the next rebirth.

And as a goldsmith takes the gold from an old piece of jewellery and shapes it into a more modern piece, so the Self forgets the old body, takes hold of another body, whether like that of the fathers, or of the celestial singers, or of the gods, or of the begetter, or of any other creature.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Old age and wisdom command the greatest respect in Hinduism and it is considered to be part of Dharma (duty) to honour, respect and care for elderly relatives.

A man commands respect through his education, religious action, age, friends and wealth.

Yajnavalkya 1:116

Life is sacred

Most Hindus would say that a doctor should not accept a patient's request for euthanasia since this will cause the soul and body to be separated at an unnatural time. The result will change the karma of both doctor and patient.

Other Hindus believe that euthanasia cannot be allowed because it breaches the teaching of ahimsa (doing no harm).

However, some Hindus say that by helping to end a painful life a person is performing a good deed and so fulfilling their moral obligations.

Accepting death

A Hindu who is very old or very ill may decide for themselves that the right time has come for death by choosing to stop eating or drinking. This act of renouncing the world shows that the Hindu realises that the world is not as important as it appears. This method of choosing death is often admired as a sign of great holiness.

The suicide of people who take their own lives because they are depressed or feel hopeless is not acceptable to Hindus, unless they took their lives as self-sacrifice or because they cannot live without someone who has just died.

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