Carl Becker

Carl Becker, “Buddhist Views of Suicide and Euthanasia”

Carl Becker observes that, in the Zen Buddhist tradition of Japan, death is considered a transition from one form of life to another. As a result, death is not viewed as an evil.

A popular view in Japan is that physicians should make the decisions concerning a patient’s treatment at the end of life and the time of a patient’s death. A reason commonly given for this view is that individuals lack the knowledge to make such decisions. Baker replies by first observing that the problem may be traced to physicians withholding information from terminal patients rather than any lack of decision-making ability on the part of patients.

Becker finds in the Zen Buddhist tradition that responsibility for one’s life choices is of great importance. A patient deprived of essential information about his or her condition is unable to make an informed choice regarding treatment. For this reason, the patient is unable to take responsibility for important life-death decisions.

The Buddhist tradition regards an individual who is permanently without consciousness to have lost the status of personhood. The role of consciousness is thus central to decisions regarding end-of-life treatment. Choices expressed by competent patients or stated in written directives prior to the loss of competence are, for this reason, the appropriate grounds for decisions if an individual is to be shown respect as a person.

The Buddhist tradition in Japan has a richness that can help to alter the popular view that physicians alone should make the decisions concerning the timing of one’s death.