About euthanasia

Even for (famously compassionate) Buddhists, euthanasia (killing someone or something to stop it from suffering) is a complicated topic. Here are the issues I have encountered when talking to Buddhists and reading Buddhist philosophies over the years:

  • Intentional killing is bad karma for the killer, breaks the first precept, etc. It could cause the killer to have an unpleasant future life(s). On the other hand, euthanasia is probably about as harmless of an act of intentional killing as is possible, because one is doing it mainly with the intention to avoid or stop suffering. On the other hand, the Abhidhamma (the philosophical section of the Buddhist canon) says that life is a series of instantaneous moments, which condition each other in a series. Any action takes many moments (e.g., killing or dying usually takes a few minutes), so it is probably possible for an action to create instances of both good and bad karmas in a complex mixture (i.e., one moment might be dominated by your compassion and another moment by your willingness to kill). Also, the last moments of one life conditions the first moments of the next life, so one should be in as peaceful or positive of a state of mind as possible when dying. (Side note: In Buddhism, there is no clear difference between humans and nonhumans. Humans have merely reached or evolved to a level of complexity where they are capable of complex thoughts and attaining enlightenment. Human mindstreams can supposedly be reborn in animal or other nonhuman bodies, if their mind is best suited to that kind of life. Unlike in the Abrahamic religions, there is no exception made for killing animals. Intentionally killing any sentient being is bad to some degree, and where exactly sentience begins is unclear.)
  • Life’s problems, including death, are considered to have been caused by that being’s karma (past intentional feelings/thoughts, words, and deeds), which conditioned that being to be born, and continues to condition everything that happens to them throughout their life. Everyone’s suffering is largely their own fault (the Buddha heavily emphasized the effects of karma, but later commentators also acknowledged the effects of the five niyama: genetics, the seasons, karma, that the mind is a stream of thought-moments, and the actions of powerful beings). The only way to stop making new karma is to meditate enough to become enlightened. As I understand, Buddhists think that it is no one else’s responsibility to stop another person or animal’s pain or suffering, though if someone wanted to ensure that they (themselves) continue to have nice rebirths, others’ suffering is an opportunity to behave generously, compassionately, etc. toward others, in order to accumulate merit for oneself. One is not abusing someone by not helping them through some natural situation, including illness or dying; their karma caused/conditioned that situation for them, and as karma is a natural law, it is an impartial, objective, just, etc. reaction to someone’s past action (i.e., nature has a built-in criminal justice system where people eventually automatically get exactly what they deserve). However, one must be careful about how one feels about others’ suffering. If one feels cruelly/sadistically happy that someone else is suffering, that is probably a negative karma for oneself. Neutral or peaceful karma leads to Nirvana or a middling/boring human life; positive, compassionate, loving, etc. karma leads to Heaven, wealth, beauty, etc.
  • Similarly, killing someone or something does not necessarily spare them/it from having to face its karma in a future life. However, Buddhists often believe that one could make merit for that being by doing good things and then transferring that merit to that being, to try to negate some of that being’s negative karma and spare it from suffering in the future. Without such an intervention, one must face one’s karma eventually.
  • Death and mortal pain offer important opportunities for the mind to watch the body fail. They provide important spiritual lessons, namely to clearly see the impermanence of life, that one should not become too attached to the body or one’s current lifestyle, and to see that a part of the mind (the “mindstream” or citta-santanaa) is separate from the body and survives death (though is not an immortal soul or spirit like in the Abrahamic religions).
  • Strong neurological drugs, like narcotic or opioid painkillers, the drugs used for anesthesia and euthanasia, intoxicants, etc. hinder or destroy one’s clarity of mind, making it difficult or impossible for what is left of the brain and body to clealy see what is happening, and maybe preventing the mindstream from knowing what to do, where to go, etc. for a good rebirth.

Instead, Buddhists usually advocate the following:

  • Offer palliative/comfort care to the terminally ill (mild painkillers that don’t disrupt mental clarity (like NSAIDs), a comfortable bed or chair, good food and liquids, help them to use the toilet and to bathe, etc.), and sit with them as they die (meditating, chanting, or praying with or over them; encouraging them; holding their hand; helping them stay calm and clear-headed; etc.). In the case of dying animals, I understand that it is difficult to communicate such things to them, and they may not have the cognitive ability or education to understand what is happening to them (interestingly, nature/God doesn’t seem to care about this). Nevertheless, I have seen how touching or holding an animal and making sympathetic or soothing sounds can be calming to them.
  • The Buddha initially recommended that people meditate on death, sitting in cemetaries, mortuaries, etc., watching bodies decay, and contemplating how one’s own body would eventually become like that. However, that was too depressing for some monks, so the Buddha switched to teaching breathing meditation (Pali: anapanasati), which is more mentally neutral. Some Buddhist monks encourage people to wait a few seconds before breathing in, to contemplate the feeling of breathlessness. I have also seen elderly people practice dying by stopping breathing for a minute, so that they might feel less traumatized when they actually die. And I have seen various animals encounter dead members of their own species, with various reactions: ants sometimes carry a dead ant back to the hive, and female dolphins and gorillas sometimes mourn (carry around, hold, contemplate, etc.) their own dead babies for days or weeks. I am not sure whether seeing a dead animal would help another animal of the same species learn to cope with death or would traumatize it. Like human children, animals do not seem to have as many socially learned filters, taboos, etc. about natural things (e.g., nudity, sex, and violence) as do adult humans.
  • If a person is in a coma, vegetative state, etc., I understand that Buddhists are encouraged to care for them in the hope that they might one day regain consciousness. The Buddha similarly encouraged healthy monks in a monastery to take care of sick monks. Caring compassionately and selflessly for others purifies one’s own mind, reduces one’s self delusion, and is good karma. If this continues for a long time, hopefully there will be some kind of government or other institutional facility and funds for the person’s long-term sustenance, so that their family is not burdened.
  • If a person is being kept barely alive by machines, I understand that Buddhists are encouraged to take care of them for a reasonable amount of time (the length of time is ambiguous) in the hope that they might recover and regain consciousness, but if they do not regain consciousness, to unplug the machines and let them die naturally in peaceful surroundings, with as much clarity of mind as possible.
  • In the case of stray animals, I understand that perhaps they should be neutered or spayed (if adequate veterinary facilities exist), and that they should either be allowed to roam freely or be taken in as pets, living off of people’s generosity. I have never seen an animal shelter in a Buddhist-majority country. The cacophony of stray dogs barking and howling at night can be quite loud in Buddhist-majority countries; people don’t like it, but they tolerate it. It is also considered wrong by some Buddhists to deprive an animal of its freedom by keeping it as a pet, though some wealthy Buddhists do have pets, including purebred animals. More common is that there are neighborhood or village animals that roam from house to house getting food, medicine, shelter, etc. from generous people or living as they wish in nature.
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If you’re rich, others must be poor

There is a limited supply of (valuable) money, commodities, etc. in this world, and most of it is concentrated among wealthy nations, corporations, and billionaire individuals who often do not work as long or hard as people in poorer regions or nations. If “trickle-down economics” works (as Republicans in the US often claim), why are there poor people and nations in the world? Wealthy people can’t be counted on to reliably share their wealth or help others.

What Star Trek says about liberal America

(As yet another Star Trek TV series is soon to be released) The most interesting thing to me about Star Trek is that it seems to try to show how liberal Americans want the future to be. Though civilians are shown occasionally, the overwhelming focus is on Star Fleet and themes like:

  • a single, globalizing/universalizing, hierarchical, US/UN-type federal government that seeks to run everything in the universe with positivist science and a defensive-only military
  • leaders should have arrogant, extroverted, emotional, and self-indulgent alpha personalities, and people should either replace them or follow them obediently
  • socialism of most things, eliminating large corporations and money, but allowing small companies (e.g., Quark’s casino in DS9) and trading of commodities (e.g., latinum, dilithium, antiques, etc.)
  • technophilia and hedonism in many forms
  • politically correct inclusion of 1-2 members of many ethnicities, genders, and species, though most humans are either Caucasians, African Americans, or East Asians
  • positivistic scientism and English in public (emphasizing math, engineering, chemistry, biology, etc.), and pushing most social science and humanities topics to people’s off-duty hours or private quarters

Infrastructural superiorities of South Asia

Here are several infrastructual things that South Asian countries often seem to do better than the US:

  • the existence of low-cost or free state-run hospitals, in addition to more expensive private hospitals
  • low prices on basic-needs products (staple foods, utilities, etc.), because of controls by the government
  • state-run trains that are cheap and go to every major city
  • the use of international standards (metric, ISO, international voltages and plugs support, etc.)
  • greater variety of products imported from foreign countries
  • using the most cost-efficient technology that will do the job by default, not requiring people to pay for luxuries
  • not adding large corporate or government bureaucracy, litigation, and surveillance to every little thing
  • a preference for traditional cultures that do things in natural, local, eco-friendly ways (e.g., eating fresh food, using biofuels, minimizing electricity use, using natural building materials, planting lots of trees or living in a forest, etc.)
  • a preference for smaller, more energy efficient and easy-to-fix vehicles (bikes, scooters, motorcycles, tuk tuks, etc.)
  • commonsense safety or sanitation precautions (e.g., having switches on power outlets, not building electrical wires into walls, using natural gas in canisters and stoves that are stored outside, running rain gutters under sidewalks and making sidewalks out of stone or metal panels that can be lifted, etc.)

Reconciliation and reparation

Here are three things, related to reconciliation and reparations, I wish the US would do:

  1. Give Native American nations some percentage of the land, of their choosing and under their administration, in every county of the US where they have historically lived, so that they are no longer confined to marginalized/poor reservations and can regain all of their ancestral lands to some degree.
  2. Create a federal Department of Slavery Reparations, which would have these five mandates:
    1. Work with the IRS and historians to tax white people whose ancestors held slaves, and either give the money directly to poor black people whose ancestors were slaves or make public colleges in the US free for such black people.
    2. Offer free historical family investigations, done by PhD historians and geneticists, to black people whose ancestors were slaves, going back to the tribe/village in Africa from which they were taken.
    3. Fund numerous community development and job-placement programs in majority black neighborhoods across the US, organized and led by African Americans.
    4. Create minimum quotas for African American inclusion/hiring in every American company and at every American mass media network/studio (every movie, TV show, etc.).
    5. Work in similar ways to repair the effects of other types of historical and modern slavery/trafficking in the US (e.g., indentured servitude, sex slavery, etc.).
  3. Coordinate with African governments and companies to allow African Americans to take free flights to/from Africa and to find housing, insurance, and decently paid public-service work in Africa, both to re-connect with the homeland from which they were stolen and to help all Africans lift themselves up from the colonialistic legacies that have weighed them down for so long.

Disclosure: In the 1700-1800s, some of my ancestors had a few (maybe 10) African slaves, and my ancestors settled on lands that were taken from Native Americans. Of these things, I am not proud.

What if governments weren’t monopolies?

How might life be, if governments were not monopolistic within their territories, for example, if several federal governments (e.g., one run by democrats, one by republicans, one by environmentalists, etc.) competed to offer laws and services to a country, and citizens could subscribe to only one government at a time? I wonder if this freedom would cause people to fight less with each other.

  • People within the same territory could pay fewer taxes for fewer benefits, or more taxes for more benefits. There probably would need to be a base level of oversight and taxation (i.e., a very small unifying federal government) that all governments require (e.g., for military defense of the homeland), but I can imagine many competing governments with differing cultures or philosophies catering to people with those cultures or philosophies: the various ethnic groups, religions, etc. that are most common in the US. Perhaps people’s ID cards could be used to access benefits offered by the government to which they subscribe.
  • There could be several US presidents, possibly a committee, and elections could end at the primaries.
  • People could be free to live under the kind of government they prefer all the time, not just every four or eight years (or never), and people could actually live under the rules of the smaller parties that currently never win elections.
  • There might be several legal and penal systems that sometimes need arbitration. For example, if Muslims were allowed to wear full-face burqas in public by the democrat government but were prohibited from it by the republican government, and a democrat Muslim wore a burqa in a republican-majority area, how would that be handled?
  • This model might also show people very clearly and quickly the consequences of different forms of government.

Social packaging of karmic sacrifices

As I understand, there is an interesting packaging that happens with voter registration, because some states use it as well as other databases (e.g., the driver’s license databases), as a pool for the jury duty lottery. So, by registering to vote (and presumably voting), one is expressing a willingness to accept both whatever bad things one’s chosen presidential candidate might do in office as well as the damage of participating in judging and hurting people in a courtroom setting. And, if one doesn’t vote, such as out of protest, it is like accepting that the worst candidate might be elected because you did not support a better candidate who had a chance of winning. It’s an inescapable package of personal karmic sacrifice for society. (see also my Q&A on karma)