Friday, February 12, 2010

Life support.

Question : (Unedited)

My father has recently expressed to me the wish that in the event that he ends up in a coma or suffers from an incurable terminal illness, I (as his health care proxy) order the doctors take him off life support. I am terribly conflicted about this. Would following his wishes be violating the First Precept? What would the Buddhist thing to do be if such a situation were to arise?

Many thanks, L

My comment:
Hi L,

Thank you for asking me.

The first precept requires us to refrain from killing, to the best of our abilities. It is not a commandment. The reason for keeping this precept is just common sense and fairplay. We do not want others to harm us, let alone kill us. We are very fearful of others inflicting harm on us. On this premise alone we should also refrain from harming others. This is the world of Dukkha; which is always difficult to bear because of constant difficult choices that we have to make. Let us not forget that sometimes we are forced to take drastic actions for our own protection as well as for others. It may be for the better good of a higher order that sacrifices have to be made. Take for instance, the bird flu. How many millions of chickens and other birds have to be killed! This does not take into account of the millions of lives that are killed for our foods everyday. This reflects the First Noble Truth of Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness).

It takes clear understanding of the Buddha's teachings to gain a certain degree of wisdom to decide on difficult choices. In the final analysis, you yourself have to choose, and to choose wisely. Usually I use the 3 criteria to decide. One, is the decision harmful to oneself? Two, is it harmful to others? Three, is it beneficial? In your case, it is still very difficult to compute. But I will not have any difficulty to decide. However it is not for me to "advise" you. You, yourself have to make the final decision. I would suggest that you take into considerations of the following points:

1)It is your father's wish.
2)Continued life support is futile.
3)Is there any hope for recovery?
4)Legal considerations.
5)Opinions/objections/consensus of other relatives.

A bit of digression before I end. To be fully responsible for the act of killing, the following 5 conditions are to be fulfilled:
1)There must be a living being.
2)Knowledge of the living being.
3)Intention to kill the living being.
4)The act of killing the living being.
5)The living being died as a result of the act.

Have peace, from justinchoo.

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