The White Hindu has moved

The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Monday, September 24, 2012

Do we have a right to die?

Something has disturbed me recently. I found out that there is a bill on the ballet in Massachusetts to legalize physician-assisted suicide for those who are terminally ill.

On the surface, such a law often sounds like a good idea. Supporters use words like "dignity" and talk about suffering. If someone knows he is going to die, why prolong the suffering?

My beliefs suggest that there are some very important reasons why suicide is never an option.

Not that we can ever do anything to set us back permanently. Suicide is not going to land us in hell for eternity. But leaving early does deprive us of the chance to work through the sanskara that we were put in this life to deal with. and the act of suicide is going to add some very serious sanskara to future lifetimes.

It may sound cruel to say we have to stick it out no matter the circumstances. And I'm a very firm believer in the "separation of church and state," as they say here. I don't want to legislate my morality. I don't vote based on religious preferences alone (although my religion certainly informs everything in my life).

Some of you may now that I'm connected to doing work in disability rights. Another thing that I have against a bill like this is the double standard. When a healthy and/or able-bodied person says they want to kill themselves, we rush to get them counseling, medication, and help. When someone with a severe disability or illness wants to kill themselves, we say "Yeah, that makes sense. Your life must be shit."

No one has the right to take his own life.

And I think that's what's at the heart of this passionate debate back and forth over the right to die issue.

We want to believe that we have some control over our life and our death. We like to tell ourselves that if things got too bad we could always kill ourselves, that at any time we could take control.

But we are not in control of death. 

The universe takes us when it is our time and we will never see that coming. Even those who are terminally ill cannot predict (or have doctors) predict the moment they will pass. Prognoses are educated estimates. We don't know when our time to go is.

Proof of that, to me, is the seemingly random way that some people do insanely dangerous things and live while others die tucked away at home reading a book. People even frequently survive suicide attempts. When a doctor gives you poison, though, there's no turning back.

This is not the same as a do-no-resuscitate request. This is an active killing of a human being. And whether that life is your own or someone else's, it's still murder in my book. Our lives are not given over to us to control. Not entirely.

Now since I try not to force my moral and religious beliefs on others, I can almost come to this issue the way I do to abortion. I think it's wrong and I wouldn't do it, but I don't begrudge anyone else making the moral decision for herself. I don't judge those who do choose it and I don't prevent them from choosing it. I am not in their skin. I don't know what the situation looks like to them. I am not terminally ill. I don't know what such people are facing.

This law gets more personal for me. It concerns me that, for example, the official witness who confirms that the person really does want to die can be the person who inherits from the death. It concerns me that we put doctors, whose oath is to life, in the position of purposefully killing (and what that might do to their sanskara!). And it concerns me that we value some life more than others.

I no longer live in Massachusetts, so this is not something I will have to vote on as of yet. My friends tell me there are some states where such bills have passed and nothing terrible has come of it. I am not so sure. After all, we can't see sanskara.

These are my thoughts at this moment. I'm uncertain how they may evolve. At this time, though, I am passionately opposed to legalizing suicide.

{And for further reading, I would suggest the "life with dignity" people, Not Dead Yet}


  1. As a private nurse for over a decade, for terminally ill clients i can tell you that suicide is already happening.

    My own father was allowed to decline food and water in a U.S.Vet hospice at the begining of this year. My mother, after battling cancer for 12 years was given a lethal dose of Oxycotin and went to sleep, never woke up. Under the care of Hospice. When i worked in the hospital i saw many many instances where folks decided to decline needed medications, food, water and or accepted medications such as Oxy to end their life.

    As a Hindu, the right to end your life in times of terminal illness is absolutely condoned. It was one of the big reasons i can sleep at night knowing my parents did something unknowingly Dharmic without even knowing it.

    Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a wonderful Being...and Beloved to all...

    Prayopavesa, a yogic tradition which allows people, without obligations, or terminally stop nourishment.

    We are not really talking about suicide where some young teen shoots themself in the head because their girlfriend broke up with them. We are talking about people with three months left of a wretched illness...who of their own free will, decide to exit gracefully.


    I came back here into hell because i did infact kill myself in my previous life. It wasn't a noble death at the end of a long life. It was a defiant act of selfishness...and so now i have paid...and paid...dearly.

    There is a difference. I can not understand why a country where we condone the loving...compassionate euthanization of a beloved pet when it is terminally ill. Yet our own family would not be given the same compassionate courtesy.

    Lucky for us all, as i said above. Assisted suicide happens within hospice every day...all the time. Thanks to our dedicated doctors and nurses. Without any fanfair...without much conversation at all...thankfully.

    Hari Om <3

  2. Thank you for that resource. Perhaps it will help to put my mind at ease!

    I definitely come at this from the perspective of having friends with severe disabilities who do not want to die and don't like the cultural narrative that seems to tell them that they should want to die.

  3. Oregon and Washington do have options for assisted suicide in the case of terminal illness. There is a pretty big process around it, including a psych eval, and the medicine has to actually be taken by the person themselves, not administered by a physician or any third party.

    It is my understanding that it is not technically permissible for assisted suicide to happen in a hospice setting. There are different orders that people can ask for - no DNR, no feeding tubes, medicate as much as needed in order to relieve pain - but that overdosing on medication in order to bring about death is not allowed. The focus is on palliative care - keeping the patient comfortable - and on a "good death" that does not cause lingering, complicated grief for the family.

    The narrative that people with disabilities should want to die does not go hand in hand with allowing people the autonomy to choose when they exit this world if the illness is terminal and will be fraught with suffering in the end. I think they are part of two separate issues. The existing laws do not permit people with non-terminal conditions to request the prescription. It's not being treated as a way for people to get rid of their elderly relatives or an efficient economic solution (indeed, the first year after the law was passed, only 65 people requested the prescription and 36 actually took it). The laws have not been expanded to include people with non-terminal conditions and are unlikely to, and proponents say that it actually gives more value to life instead of less, because the decision of when to go is a personal and conscious one.

    If there is any cultural narrative that supports that view, it's the capitalistic viewpoint that if you have not contributed enough to society in acceptable ways (being part of a large corporation, government entity, and/or independently wealthy) then you do not deserve to even get treatment for your illnesses. I read a statistic somewhere saying that lack of insurance for appropriate treatment was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. This is more shocking and frightening to me than allowing people to self-determine their exit.

    1. Gosh, that is frightening!

      I can understand things like DNR, etc. This bill seems like it's going further than that.

      This is what I read about it:

      "The Massachusetts Medical Society opposes this ballot question.

      On November 6, Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to vote on Question 2, “Prescribing Medication to End Life.”

      We are opposed to Question 2 for these reasons:

      The proposed safeguards against abuse are insufficient. Enforcement provisions, investigation authority, oversight, or data verification are not included in the act. A witness to the patient’s signed request could also be an heir.
      Assisted suicide is not necessary to improve the quality of life at the end of life. Current law gives every patient the right to refuse lifesaving treatment, and to have adequate pain relief, including hospice and palliative sedation.
      Predicting the end of life within six months is difficult; sometimes the prediction is not accurate. From time to time, patients expected to be within months of their death have gone on to live many more months — or years. In one study, 17 percent of patients outlived their prognosis.
      Doctors should not participate in assisted suicide. The chief policy making body of the Massachusetts Medical Society has voted to oppose physician assisted suicide."

  4. As a mom of children with disabilities i can sincerely tell you, i understand why you would be concerned. I am thankful for the tireless work you and others do to make our lives better.<3

  5. Totally touched with the post.And it forced me to think about my life seriously.The people who are healthy ,are so much blessed and they should not complain about their lives but be thankful to be healthy enough to serve the society.Thanks for the post.