Faiths take nuanced view

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  • Published 8.03.11

New Delhi, March 7: Experts from different faiths today by and large opposed euthanasia, but their reactions to the Supreme Court verdict varied somewhat based on subtle differences in their interpretations of their own religions.

Islam is unambiguously against all forms of euthanasia, active or passive, said Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, president of the All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques.

“Giving or taking life is in Allah’s hands. Euthanasia under any circumstances is strictly prohibited,” he said.

Even if a person is in a permanently vegetative state or in deep and incurable pain, euthanasia is a sin, Ilyasi said. “The suffering we endure is atonement for our sins. It is Allah’s will and only He knows when we need to die.”

Christian and Jain scholars had some praise for the verdict.

“We are very happy that the verdict is in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” said Thomas Aquinas Sequeira, deputy secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

“Active euthanasia is illegal and morally unacceptable. We don’t have the right to take lives. God knows when to do that.”

Sequeira was the only one to make the active-passive distinction and said passive euthanasia could be legitimate if the medical treatment needed was “overzealous”.

He, however, said the Church opposed voluntary passive euthanasia, which is carried out on the patient’s own request. “Nobody is allowed to will their death. This is equivalent to suicide.”

A.K. Jain, president of the Ahimsa Foundation, a Jain organisation in Delhi, too lauded the court for not permitting active euthanasia. “We have to have faith in our karma and allow time to take its own course.”

Jain stressed that euthanasia was different from the Jain ritual of Santhara, or voluntary death by fasting.

“In Santhara, one takes a conscious decision about one’s own life. Due to the prolonged nature of Santhara, the individual gets ample time to reflect on his or her life. The vow of Santhara is taken when one feels that one’s life has served its purpose. There exists a similar Hindu practice, known as Prayopavesa,” he said.

The tradition of Santhara had made headlines in 2006 when two elderly Jain women in Jaipur practised it. Santhara is optional for Jains and is said to be taken up mainly by women from the Shwetambara sect.

Balwant Singh Dhillon, professor of Sikhism at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, said his religion had no specific texts on euthanasia but stressed that it did not allow one to take lives.

“There is no precedent for euthanasia. If life is dependent on life support and if you have the ability to keep someone alive, then it is considered a service to humanity,” he said.

Parsi academic Roshen Dalal, author of The Religions of India, said Zoroastrianism did not permit one to take lives, and offered no precedent for euthanasia.