Doctor assisted suicide - a hot potato in the western countries these days. Although this is a kind of suicide, the patient is fully awake and living human being in contrast to a patient in life support due to brain death. According to the Buddhist teachings, what are the karmic repercussions for the doctor who assists the suicide?

  • FWIW the Wikipedia article you linked to says, Physician-assisted suicide is often confused with euthanasia (sometimes called "mercy killing"). In cases of euthanasia the physician administers the means of death, usually a lethal drug. In physician-assisted suicide (PAS) the patient self-administers the means of death.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 7, 2016 at 16:33

4 Answers 4


Assisting suicide would be considered an offence of defeat in a monk.

Whatever monk should intentionally deprive a human being of life, or should look about to be his knife-bringer, he is also one who is defeated and is no more in communion.

-- Attitudes to Euthanasia in the Vinaya and Commentary


First among the five precepts, acknowledged by all Buddhist practitioners, is not to take a life, especially a human life. Consequently, from the Buddhist point of view, that the time of death is uncertain precluding the taking of life to be determinable, both suicide and the one who assists suicide generate extreme negative Karma. In the case of euthanasia, the individual concerned is already actively dying, and the outcome is certain. It can be argued that "mercy killing" in the last hours is an act of compassion where the Karma is neutral; i.e., the patient will die if I act...the patient will die if I do not act.

Finally, I would point out that your example of the patient who is brain dead, by definition cannot make a decision for Physician assisted suicide; and one cannot determine the number of years (with an otherwise healthy body) that that individual would live. So to take that individual's life would be a clear case of murder. It is the karma of such a person describe in your example to be and remain in that state until karma determines their life span.

  • I think that in Western countries at least, a patient who is literally brain dead is by definition already dead ... is not alive and cannot be murdered ... also doesn't have an "otherwise healthy body" in that the body cannot breathe without a respirator, although individual organs may be considered healthy (and suitable for organ donation/transplant).
    – ChrisW
    Jun 8, 2016 at 0:32
  • That said, Buddhists may want to leave a recently-deceased body undisturbed for a while, see e.g. How long to leave a body undisturbed after death?
    – ChrisW
    Jun 8, 2016 at 0:36
  • "Otherwise healthy body" is meant to be considered as a body that needs no extra ordinary assistance to maintain biological function. Wikipedia's topic on death defines it as " the termination of all biological functions that sustain an organism." I would agree that in many Western countries brain dead on life support where it is assumed that withdrawing that support would lead to biological death is in legal terms death. Jun 8, 2016 at 1:13
  • I think that a brain dead body won't breathe without extraordinary/artificial assistance.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 8, 2016 at 1:16
  • I offer from the same Wikipedia article: " However, the category of "brain death" is seen by some scholars to be problematic. For instance, Dr. Franklin Miller, senior faculty member at the Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health, notes "By the late 1990s, however, the equation of brain death with death of the human being was increasingly challenged by scholars, based on evidence regarding the array of biological functioning displayed by patients correctly diagnosed as having this condition who were maintained on mechanical ventilation for substantial periods of time.... Jun 8, 2016 at 1:16

The Pali scriptures explain 'kamma is intention' (AN 6.63). Thus the results of kamma (an action) will follow the quality of intention. The moral precepts are training rules thus not 100% fixed for lay people (however, the killing precept is 100% fixed for monks, since many of the monks rules are about the public image). That said, it is not considered bad karma for a mind free from greed, hatred & delusion to commit suicide. Therefore, a person that commits suicide due to unbearable physically debilitating (rather than emotional) pain is blameless. As for the doctor or helper...?

[Channa said]...Friend Sāriputta, I am not getting well, I am not comfortable. My painful feelings are increasing, not subsiding;…their increase and not their subsiding is apparent. I shall use this knife, friend Sāriputta; I have no desire to live...

[The Buddha said]...Sāriputta, when one lays down a 'body' ['kaya': grouping of five aggregates] & takes up a new 'body', then I say one is blameworthy. This did not happen in the case of the bhikkhu Channa; the bhikkhu Channa used the knife blamelessly.

MN 144

  • I do not like the translation of the word Chetana as "Intention". That should be translated as "Volitional". Jun 8, 2016 at 14:00
  • @Sajeewa Welendagoda meaning of words is not hinged on favor or disfavor suttacentral.net/define/cetan%C4%81 plus "cetana" is not a form of adjective but of a noun, a version semantically closer to your preference is "will" Jun 12, 2016 at 10:59

Suicide is one of the greatest of sins that one could do unto self. In the Vinaya generally, suicide is condemned. Assisting or encouraging suicide is equal to the gravest offences. A monk who deliberately ends the life of a patient, even from compassionate motives, is expelled from the monkhood and can never re-ordain in this life, so there’s no room for assisted suicide in Supreme Buddha’s dispensation. It is said that this act will take you to the worst hell - the great hell / Ānatareika Niraya. Now you know the danger of this Samsara. You and I would have committed suicide a countless number of times in our previous births. This shows the urgency and importance of becoming a Sotha-Aapanna – to get into the stream – the Noble Eight-fold Path.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .