Q125. What is the Sikh attitude to mercy-killing?
Today there is a lot of pressure on politicians to legalize mercy-killing. In certain countries, mercy killing of patients suffering from incurable diseases or terminal illness has been regulated by law. It is left either to the discretion of the physician or the patient. Recently a new Society named “EXIT” has been started in Great Britain, which supports the right of the individual to die with dignity and its literature contains some instructions for those who desire a painless suicide. The tendency towards the death-wish is fostered by present-day tensions and the conflicts of our competitive society. Mental illness is on the increase, and some people, in a fit of depression, may welcome death as a relief from the torture of living.
What is the Sikh view on this important subject of Euthanasia or mercy-killing? Is it right to end a life on account of the pain and agony faced by the patient? Is the physician under a duty to end life, when the terminally ill patient asks for relief in death? The Gurus regarded suffering as a result of man’s Karma. Man must have the moral courage to bear his suffering without lament. He should pray for the grace of God to enable him to put up with pain in a spirit of resignation and surrender.
There is no place for mercy-killing in Sikhism. The Gurus tackled the problem of sickness and suffering by providing medical relief and alleviation of pain. Guru Arjan built a leprosarium at Tarn-Taran. Guru Har Rai established a hospital at Kiratpur. It is reported that he supplied a rare herb to emperor Jehangir for the serious illness of his son. After all suffering is a part of the human condition and has a place in God’s scheme. Suffering also prompts man to turn his thoughts to God; “Suffering is a medicine; happiness is a disease.”
The Gurus rejected suicide, as it is an interference in God’s plan. Many Sikhs faced torture and ultimate death at the hands of tyrant rulers and fanatic leaders, though they could have found relief through suicide. Birth and death are the prerogatives of God and under His command, and it is no business of man to oppose the Divine Will.
Recently, the Pope condemned mercy-killing and suicide as opposed to God’s will and declared it a crime of the utmost gravity. It is the duty of the State and society to alleviate the suffering of citizens by medicine, surgery or psychological treatment. Even the expert physician has no right as such to end life. If he cannot cure or heal, he should not destroy life.