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January 8, 2012

Question: What is your faith's view on euthanasia?

The short answer to today’s question is that euthanasia, or mercy killing, is left up to the conscience of those responsible for making such a decision, i.e., doctors, immediate family, and, of course, the patient. Regarding the question of providing life-support or its withdrawal, the wishes of the patient are pre-eminent. Some Bahá’ís make a living will in which the person may stipulate that life must not be prolonged by artificial means.

It would be collaterally instructive to discover how Bahá’ís arrive at this guideline. In the Bahá’í Faith, the governance of personal conduct is regulated by basically two things: revelation and legislation. Revelation means that the basis for making any moral decision would have to be found in the sacred writings of the Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh, (1817-1892), or in the authorized interpretations of those writings. These interpretations could be legitimately made by only two persons, who were Bahá’u’lláh’s successors: ‘Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921), “the Centre of the Covenant,” his eldest son, and Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), “the Guardian,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s grandson.

Since 1963, any contemporary rulings governing the moral conscience of the Bahá’í community are made through legislation enacted by the Universal House of Justice, nine elected members of the community, whose permanent seat is found at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. (Bahá’u’lláh had been banished to what is now Israel in the days of the Ottoman Empire). The members of this body carefully research and consult the sacred texts before making any ruling.

To put the matter differently, unity of doctrine and the orientation of personal conduct are uniformly maintained in this manner, and not by the judicial rulings of clerics — there is no clerical order in the Bahá’í Faith — and consequently not through theological councils, community debates, and so forth. In sum, the basis on which questions of personal conduct are decided rests on the firm basis of scriptural guidance, or through the legislation of the Universal House of Justice. At this point, this body has decided not to issue any ruling on euthanasia beyond the guidance already referred to above.
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen January 8, 2012
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