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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
22 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2 0 1 6 others to face those difficult choices in their own way? narayan helen liebenson: The Buddha didn’t say much on this issue. However, there are two discourses, the Vikkali Sutra and the Channa Sutta, in which two monks who committed suicide were not criticized by the Buddha for their actions, the caveat being that both were very advanced along the path. In the monk’s rules, there is no room for help- ing hasten another’s death; a monk who does so deliberately is expelled from the monastic community and is not permit- ted to re-ordain. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that although mercy killing should generally be avoided, it is permissible in exceptional circumstances; he coun- sels taking it on a case-by-case basis. As usual, he marries compassion with wisdom. The truth is that there are pain thresholds that can feel unbearable and unendurable. The right palliative care medicines to ease pain, and the compas- sion and comfort of others, can make an immense difference. But this is not always so. Pain medicine is not a perfect science, and some pain cannot be man- aged adequately through medication. You are very dear to think of the karmic implications for the doctors. Perhaps one of the questions for doc- tors who are in these difficult situations is, how is their mental state after helping someone end their life? Does it put the doctor into a toxic mental state? Per- haps this could be a guide, and it may be different for each doctor. We have to remember that the Buddha said our understanding of karma would always be incomplete because of the countless conditions coming together in every moment. Each of us has to care for our own karma, which is hard enough. Car- ing for another’s may be taking on too much. On a personal note, if I were asked to vote on this issue, I would be con- flicted as well. I have many friends and family members who would help me die with dignity if need be; I think of Buddhism. Remember that there are consequences—karmic effects—from unrelieved physical and emotional suf- fering. There are consequences to having no choice. Autonomy is an important value for almost everyone. If we believe that people must take responsibility for their own lives, moment by moment and day by day, we must allow people the room to make choices, even if they seem to be making mistakes. Why would we take away autonomy when the person is approaching death? Each of us will face it, and none of us know how it will feel or how we ourselves will behave. Can any of us be so certain that we can tell another how to behave at such a momentous time? This brings me to a second point you make: “I know that people suffer terri- bly.” Many years of research show that a large percentage of the people who obtain a lethal prescription do not actu- ally take the drug. Many state in inter- views that simply having the option was a great consolation and relieved their suffering. If you are uncomfort- able with supporting assisted death for terminally ill people, there are many things you can do. Your awareness creates responsibility. Here, too, your volition is important—is your intent to control another person or to ease that person’s suffering? You can volunteer as a companion to a dying person or help a hospice or palliative care orga- nization provide support. You can also make your own wishes for death and dying clear—that’s an important way to reduce suffering for your family in the future. Being ready to die is not the same as having the desire to die. The wish to control the time of one’s unavoidable death is not the same as a wish to be dead. Turning toward assisted death is an expression of acceptance. It is turn- ing toward one’s path, bowing to the inevitable nature of change. This is the most important aspect of the question to me: Can we accept the real conditions before us? Can we face the very difficult choices life may bring? Can we allow LUKLA DAVID PADWA a novel LUKLA DAVID PADWA INCIDENT at at at ISBN: 970-0-9895908-0-8 260 pages Paper $14 - eBook $4.99 - Audio $17.46 PHOTOS: hapax.org/photos.php REVIEWS: hapax.org/reviews.php Hapax Press P.O. Box 1988, Santa Fe, NM 87504 Available on Amazon.com INCIDENT AT LUKLA A Novel of the Himalayas by David Padwa A fantastic tale of Buddhist culture, political espionage, mountaineering adventure and sexual enlightenment. A must for Himalayan climbers and trekkers.