The world’s three largest religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – all officially forbid the practice of assisted suicide. The term “assisted suicide” is often interchanged with “euthanasia,” which is the practice of intentionally ending a life (usually of a terminally ill person) in order to relieve pain and suffering. According to the Patients Rights Council, the difference between the two is distinguished by the final act before death – if a third person performs the act that ultimately causes death, it’s euthanasia. However, if the terminally ill person in question performs the last act – for instance, by swallowing pills provided by a third party – then it is assisted suicide.
The Roman Catholic Church and Greek Orthodox Church ban both assisted suicide and euthanasia, arguing that the killing of a human being – even in order to prevent suffering – violates divine law. Most Protestant groups also officially oppose assisted suicide. While evangelical Christians typically oppose assisted suicide, the National Association of Evangelicals reports it is permissible to request the withdrawal of life support services if death is imminent and medical treatment is unavailable.
Judaism and Islam
The Union of Orthodox Judaism is heavily involved in efforts to oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide, the Death with Dignity National Center reports. Judaism bans suicide in all forms, believing it is up to God – and not human beings – to end a suffering person’s life. Islam similarly forbids assisted suicide, since the act of suicide itself is expressly forbidden in the Quran (with exceptions for cases of martyrdom). Muslims are also against euthanasia.
Buddhists do not have a unanimous view on assisted suicide or euthanasia, and the teachings of Buddha do not explicitly deal with the issue. However, Buddhism heavily stresses the importance of not causing harm (including death) to any living thing. Most Hindus are uncomfortable with assisted suicide, believing it causes the soul to separate from the body at an unnatural time. Like Buddhism, however, Hinduism does not enforce a particular stance on the subject.
About half of Americans support the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide. Americans who describe themselves as religious are most likely to oppose the act, according to Gallup. As of 2013, assisted suicide/euthanasia is legal in only a handful of locations: Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Colombia and Australia’s Northern Territory. Physician-assisted suicide (and not euthanasia) is legal in the states of Oregon, Washington and Vermont.
- Patients Rights Council: Frequently Asked Questions
- Death With Dignity Center: Religion and Spirituality
- Gallup: Views on Doctor-Assisted Suicide Follow Religious Lines
- BBC: Islam and Medical Ethics
- The Jewish Week: Physician Assisted Suicide, From a Jewish Perspective
- BBC: Buddhism, Euthanasia and Suicide
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images