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February 3, 2013

Question:  Is euthanasia right? Would God want us to suffer?

Euthanasia is a controversial and divisive topic. Contested interpretations of its legal status, practice, and morality abound.  In the Bahá’í Faith, moral determinations such as euthanasia are made on the basis of revealed law found in Bahá’u’lláh’s sacred writings. If these determinations do not exist,  Bahá’ís have recourse to the authorised  interpretations of those same writings by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921) , his eldest son and appointed successor, or Shoghi Effendi (1897-1921), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s appointed successor. To date, no ruling on euthanasia has been found to exist in Bahá’í scripture or in the writings of  Bahá’u’lláh’s authorised interpreters.

Since 1963, these determinations are made by the elected nine member Universal House of Justice, seated at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. However, the Universal House of Justice has yet to make any ruling on this matter.  Euthanasia or mercy killing is left, consequently, “to the consciences of those concerned who must weigh the medical advice on the case in the light of general guidance given in the [Bahá’í] Teachings.” Besides this general guideline, the Bahá’í teachings generally follow the precept that “God, the Giver of life, can alone dispose of it as He deems best.” Such decisions must be made by families and physicians, and where applicable, the patients themselves.

Naturally, any such decisions must also be made in light of current Canadian law. In Canada, both active and passive euthanasia, including physician-assisted suicide, are illegal. But on June 15, 2012  the Supreme Court of British Columbia struck down the illegality of physician-assisted suicide in cases of the severely disabled who were able to signify their assent. The judgement is under appeal by the federal government who took the position that current law reflects the will of the people through Parliament.

A “living will” with a “do not resuscitate” clause is the most sensible solution to this possible dilemma. A living will could help the family and medical staff to reach a decision. But there is no guarantee in law that a living will must be followed. The laws governing living wills are a legal dilemma. Litigation of specific test-cases has determined the law regarding euthanasia.  It is likely that this trend will continue.    
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen February 3, 2013
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