What does Buddhism teach about euthanasia?

Buddhists look to the Five Precepts for guidance on ethical issues. For the question of euthanasia, they would turn to the first Precept:

I undertake to abstain from taking life.


Most Buddhists believe that death is the end of the journey of one life, and is followed by rebirth. What form rebirth takes depends on their previous actions. Buddhist believe in karma or 'intentional action'. Intentional actions in this life affect future lives.

Some Buddhists believe that suffering before death may be a result of previous bad actions, maybe committed in previous lives. In this sense it is necessary for the person to experience and ‘work through’ the bad experience. If so euthanasia should not remove this suffering, as it will simply postpone the suffering to a future point. They may also believe that euthanasia is a form of bad action for the person taking away life as well as to those agreeing to have their life taken.

The Eightfold Path

One of the teachings of the Noble Eightfold Path is 'Right View'. Some Buddhists take a more compassionate view and believe that if the intention behind an action is good, the action itself cannot be wrong. Therefore if the intention of euthanasia is love and compassion, the action cannot be wrong.

In 2009, the Dalai Lama said that 'mercy killing' was permissible in certain exceptional circumstances under Buddhist philosophy, although he added that, as human life is precious:

I think it's better to avoid it.Dalai Lama

What does this mean in practice?

Many Buddhists believe that euthanasia should not be considered when facing a terminal illness. There are, however, examples of exactly this in Buddhist scripture. Although Buddhism has a strong focus on removing suffering, for many Buddhists, euthanasia is not a good way of achieving this. It could create more suffering, because if you try to escape it in this life, you may incur a possibly worse rebirth.

Where possible, a person should have a 'good death'. This would be one where the dying person is calm and collected, is reconciled to what is happening to them, feels happy or at least loving and their mind is clear. As such, the hospice movement is an attractive option for facing death for Buddhists.

There are no Buddhist hospices in the UK. However, the Buddhist Hospice Trust is a voluntary organisation that offers support to the living, the dying and the bereaved from a Buddhist perspective.

Buddhists who believe that euthanasia is a compassionate act are likely to support only voluntary, passive euthanasia as anything else does not qualify as a 'good death' and could incur negative karmic repercussions for the dying person and also the person who administered it.