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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
summer 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 21 sallie Jiko tisdale: We must begin this important question by clarifying terms. There are important differences between euthanasia, assisted death, and suicide. Euthanasia is the act of killing a person or an animal who is hopelessly suffering or terminally ill; one person kills another. Suicide is the act of a person killing himself or herself. Assisted death (sometimes called assisted suicide or death with dignity) is the act of giving a dying person the means by which that person can kill himself or herself. I live in Oregon, the first state—and one of the first governments in the world—to make assisted death legal. The difference between these acts is important because we create karma in part by volition. With every act we can ask, what is the intent? Actions don’t exist in a vacuum; they arise out of a web of condi- tioning and perception. An angry thought can be destructive even if it is accompanied by a smile. Imprisonment can be done with love and compassion. Intent counts. Medi- cal technology has dramatically changed the experience of death for many people. A discussion of assisted death is not theo- retical; each of us may face such a choice, for ourselves or with someone we love. You express concern that the doctor or the patient may create “negative karma” by the act. Doctors provide many danger- ous drugs to patients in an effort to reduce suffering and to treat or cure diseases. Che- motherapy, pain medications, and antibiot- ics can cause terrible side effects and even death, but few of us reject the concept of pharmaceutical treatment. Again, intent is significant. We cannot know the effects that will flow from any given cause. The relationship between cause and effect is subtle and com- plex, and we never know all the conditions that pertain. We may have no idea about the volition of the actor, for instance. We are not responsible for another’s karma. Of course, we are all entwined, but personal responsibility for the karmic burden we each carry is an important teaching in (LEFT–RIgHT):marylang,courtesyoFtheauthor,kimcampbell ask the teachers Q last year my fellow californians voted the Death with Dignity Act into law, but I couldn’t join them. I know that many people suffer terribly, but I worry that doctors who provide drugs to hasten a person’s death could be gen- erating negative karma for themselves, even when motivated by compassion. Also, I wonder about the karmic implications for those choosing to hasten their own death. How does Buddhism make sense of euthanasia? NarayaN HeleN liebeNsoN is a guiding teacher at cambridge insight meditation center Mark UNNo is a Shin Buddhist priest and an associate professor of Buddhism at the University of Oregon sallie jiko Tisdale is a lay dharma teacher at Dharma rain Zen center in Portland, Oregon