The Ethical Approaches of Theravada Buddhism and Roman Catholicism Toward Euthanasia
Death in its simplest definition is the absence of life. In its more scientific definition, it is the permanent cessation of all physical and biological functions that sustain a living organism. It is both an intrinsic and inevitable part of reality. With the progression of society and medical science and technology, however, death becomes much more multi-faceted in its definition and in its ability to be controlled. Such advances in technologies undoubtedly incur debate and controversy over their use, and these controversies perforate through several social dimensions and scientific disciplines, such as law, politics, psychology, biology, philosophy, and most notably, religion. It is the context of religion in which death may be of the utmost concern and complexity, for in the perspective of this discipline life and death no longer involve simply a physical reality but a connection to a greater, divine reality, as well. Certainly, most would want their lives, by reasonable means, sustained until the end of their lives inevitably approached. Thereupon, most would wish for a “good” or “peaceful” or “happy” death. Such desires are not controversial, but what constitutes both “reasonable” means and a “good” death is, especially in situations involving the purveyance of the latter by the former. Viewed through the lens of a religious tradition, these controversies can become even more problematic. However, when facing these dilemmas, religious disciplines display both diligence and caution in their ethical reasoning, while working to discern and define all morally problematic aspects, to identify the principles and values with which those aspects conflict, and to provide a resolution which enacts those values. In this essay, I will define euthanasia, a particular practice involved in end of life situations; outline how it opposes the principles and values of two religious traditions, Theravada Buddhism and Roman Catholicism; and describe what specific practical judgments these traditions provide in response. The term euthanasia is derived from the Greek terms eu meaning “good” and thanatos meaning “death.” From this basic, etymological definition, euthanasia, or a “good death,” seems relatively simple and non-controversial. In practice, however, the enactment of this “good death” involves several dimensions. Euthanasia may be an active process, in which a person performs a deliberate act that hastens the death of another, such as the administering of a lethal injection. It may also be a passive process, whereby a person deliberately withdrawals or omits some form of support, such as a feeding tube or artificial respirator, which would otherwise delay the death of another (Perrett 309). An act of euthanasia may also be discerned by whether or not its realization is in concordance with the informed wishes of the person whose death is to be hastened. Euthanasia is considered “voluntary” when it is enacted at the request of the person being killed; it is considered “involuntary” when the person killed is capable of consenting to his or her death but does not (Perrett 310). Acts of euthanasia are common in situations involving incurably ill patients whose deaths are hastened to end suffering. However, both the ultimate intention to cause and the direct result in death, which are intrinsic to all forms of euthanasia, tend to be highly problematic both morally and ethically (Harvey 293).
As noted by Schweiker, when reasoning through these ethical dilemmas, religious disciplines must first analyze and describe the situation at hand in terms of its moral meaning (5). This task of religious ethics is known as the descriptive dimension. In this dimension, description occurs through a large scope, stretching through ideology and worldviews. A relatively high level of complexity is involved, due to the limitations...
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