Discourse on the issue of assisted dying given by Swami Suryananda in July, 2014
Divine friends. In the last couple of weeks, we have seen a lot of adharma and killing in the news. There’s been the shooting down of the plane over the Ukraine and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. In this current age, killing is often seen as a solution to a problem.
Kali Yuga is the age in which we are currently living – it is the age of destruction.
There’s also been a news story that is much closer to home – the discussion about assisted dying. For sure, it will effect every single person here today. The discussions that have been taking place about assisted dying reflect how, in this age, society values destruction as a solution to a problem. We have seen very high profile figures publicly coming out and stating they now support assisted dying.
Now let’s understand what is meant by ‘assisted dying’.
Assisted dying means that any person who is terminally ill, who has been diagnosed with less than six months to live, will have the right to be administered a lethal dose of medication by a doctor to commit suicide. Divine friends, this should ring alarm bells in your minds. How can anybody tell how long someone has left to live? Six months is an arbitrary figure. In our hospice, we often look after people who have been told they will die in the next couple of months… and they’ve lived for years.
Put yourself in the position of somebody who’s just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Your world collapses. Everything that you’ve known is challenged. You have the illness to deal with, and the pressure of how you fulfil your responsibilities with your family and loved ones. You review your whole life and your imminent death. Your relationship with God is brought into focus – the meaning of life, the purpose of life. What will happen when you die? All these questions are brought to the forefront of your mind.
You are exceedingly vulnerable at that point… exceedingly vulnerable. And it’s imperative that our society cares for those who are vulnerable. We can transform despondency, despair and hopelessness with love – through the power of love in action.
In the UK we have very, very good palliative care; both in the community and in our hospitals and hospices. Do we want to see these palliative care facilities turned into, in effect, euthanasia clinics? I don’t think we do. Palliative care must be about creating the most conducive environment for a person to die, in the consciousness of love.
One important factor that seems to have been lacking in many of the conversations about assisted dying is the Grace of God.
We don’t own our bodies… we don’t own our parents, we don’t own our children. We are just custodians of these bodies. They have been given to us for a purpose – that purpose is to realise our Divinity and to realise our potential for unity and shared purpose, through love. When we express love in action through service, we can recognise our Divinity, and recognise the Divinity embodied in each and every one of us.
If we say to a dying person “It’s OK to end your life… it’s OK to commit suicide” we’re making a judgement. We’re saying “Your life is worthless… it’s not worth a thing… end it.” The pro-suicide campaigners are effectively saying: “Where there is suffering, where there is discomfort… here’s our solution to the problem: KILL.” Divine friends, it is very dangerous to have these values in our society.
People who are dying go through many ups and downs in their journey. If you are dying you often become hyper-sensitive to the vibrations of those who are around you… the carers who are looking after you, the doctors, the nurses, the family members… because your world contracts and because you become so completely vulnerable. You become so aware and so sensitive about who enters your room, how they enter your room, how they touch you, how they administer your medication.
Now if the undercurrent of a carer’s vibration is “Your life is not worth anything” – how do you think that is going to effect you? You are already in a very vulnerable place… how is that going to effect you? You are going to feel a burden – on your family, loved ones and society as a whole.
If we support assisted dying, then it’s just another small step for people to begin saying “Wouldn’t it be better to spend our resources looking after the young? Looking after those who have years left to live… people who can contribute to society, to pay bills and taxes? Why are we spending so much money looking after the elderly, the infirm and the dying? They’re suffering anyway!”
If we cross this line, if we begin to say “Your life is worthless”, then as a society, we are stepping into the abyss.
I’d like to share with you a recent experience I had with somebody who was terminally ill. I went to visit him in his residential home and when I got there, he was exceedingly distressed. He kept saying “Let me go, let me go.”
Now this man wanted to die – he’s been diagnosed with a terminal cancer, he’s very near to the prescribed date of his death. Under the new proposed legislation, this would be when carers would suggest his assisted suicide, because his life was now “worthless”. I will now tell you why this would be so wrong:
After a little while, through the careful use of sedatives and pain control, his condition was stabilised. I sat with him for many hours. There was a Marie Curie nurse who came in that night. This nurse was so aware about the patient’s needs – so mindful of the vibration that he, as a carer carried. What a beautiful human being that nurse was.
This nurse really knew how to use medication in a constructive way to limit the suffering. Not to overload somebody’s system so that it kills them or makes them vegetative… but to give that patient the time and the space to die peacefully, naturally, without pain. To let go naturally.
The next day, when I was sitting again with that patient, their breathing very slowly started to subside. And there was such a beautiful vibration in the room… very, very beautiful. And I could almost see a very fine line that connected the spirit of this patient to his body – like a spider’s web, and it was getting thinner and thinner. I felt like I could almost blow on this line and it would break the connection.
At that moment I understood what ending life prematurely would entail, and the sudden trauma it would involve. In cutting that connection prematurely you would trample over the potential for such profound beauty. The connection has to break naturally, in respectful acceptance of the natural order of things. As a society we have already caused too much suffering by overruling nature.
Just before the patient took his last breath, there was the most powerful manifestation of the Grace of God. It was completely overwhelming – not even like a damn bursting, but more like a damn disappearing. An instant flood of Grace, and an ecstatic joy, knowing that this jeeva, this life had been received by God, in the consciousness of vast, unconditional love.
I really understood the importance and privilege of working to help more people experience a peaceful death.
As a society we have to learn what care is about. We have to learn what selflessness is about. As our parents and loved ones get older and get ill, Divine Friends, dedicate yourself to sharing selfless love with them.
Through this love we can transform despondency and despair into something very beautiful. This beauty allows the Grace of God to manifest at the moment of death. That’s what good care is really all about and that’s what palliative care is about.
Good palliative care encompasses the physical, the emotional and the spiritual. It’s brings together the right medication, a good practical environment and skilled, loving carers. Most importantly, every vibration that is involved in that person’s care must be underpinned by love. Think about these things Divine Friends, for they will effect each and every one of you.
It was very disturbing that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who was meant to be a spiritual leader of this country, came out in support of assisted dying. My goodness I thought; this person is just an intellectual. He has not experienced the manifestation of the Grace of God, in a seemingly hopeless situation. This person has allowed their discrimination to be totally overrun by their emotions.
Stand up for truth Divine Friends. Stand up for higher values. Please don’t allow them to be eroded. Be fully aware that we are living in a Kali Yuga, where there will be pressure from society. Pressure from knowledgable and learned people in powerful positions, who are not speaking from a personal experience of God, of Grace, or of Love.
Listen to God within you. The Divinity within you will guide you. Divinity, in the form of your conscience, will help you make good decisions, based on love, not fear. If you find yourself caring for someone at the end of their life, do not be afraid to question the doctors and nurses about the levels of medication they prescribe.
Skanda Vale is here to support you. We will support you, your families and loved ones as they get older… and as they reach a terminal phase in their lives. We will do this, on a practical basis, through the development of an inpatient hospice. We hope to begin building work at the end of this year. Our new hospice will be available to you and your families, completely free of charge.
You can help us through volunteering and offering your skills as seva (selfless service) in the new hospice. If you have skills; if you are a healthcare worker, use these skills to serve society with love. Come and join us in this unfolding journey of selfless love Divine Friends.
This post is also available in: German