Killing and Karma: Buddhist Pet Owners and the Euthanasia Conundrum
I’ve got this patient whose cancer has not yet been named by the pathologist (we’re awaiting biopsy results), but it’s probably some nasty business given her symptoms. Which is why I tiptoed into the subject of euthanasia last week with her owners. To no avail. Turns out many Buddhists won’t euthanize their pets.
Though I know all about the "no killing" thing with Buddhists, this was news to me. After all, I’d euthanized pets from at least five Buddhist families. I guess this provision is not so uniformly considered in the same light by all Buddhists.
Here’s some background on this case:
I love this patient. She’s a fluffy white, gracefully aging cat with a beautiful disposition — one much befitting her owner’s kind (albeit worry wart-ish) manner.
Her owner is the sort of client who will call you on your cell phone in the evening and on the weekends, but he’s also ready with a rapid apology and a basket of fruit or some other token of appreciation for the above-and-beyond stuff we’re occasionally called to do for his cat. He takes great care of his cats, and — get this — he once even donated a sizable sum to my favorite pet charity (Penn’s Shelter Med Program) in my name.
Hence, a great client.
But back to the Buddhist thing:
The guy’s a practicing Buddhist with a heavy commitment to his spiritual life. Which is why he’s reluctant to entertain the concept of euthanasia for his cat if he can "in any way avoid it."
It’s an understandable conflict when you read these words (sourced from a great blog post on the subject of Buddhism and euthanasia in humans):
Buddhism places great emphasis on the significance of human life. Of the six realms of traditional Buddhist cosmology, the human realm offers the best opportunity for enlightenment. To take life — one's own or someone else's — is seen to be wrong, something outlined in the first precept which guides us to abstain from killing living beings. On both counts, euthanasia could be seen to be wrong. On the other hand, Buddhism places great emphasis on compassion (karuna). If someone is dying in terrible agony, would it be so wrong to hasten their death — especially with their consent? Would it not be, in fact, an act of compassion?
Seems the same conflict applies to pets, though less so given they are not in the "human realm" yet. Yet if "we are all upon the wheel of life," as the Buddha Siddhartha is said to have taught, the concept of euthanasia avoidance should be no different for dogs and cats — or even cockroaches — than for humans. Animals should also suffer, as it is considered a significant element of that "wheel’s" forward progress.
Yes, I get it. But I don’t personally agree. While I will offer (and he has agreed to accept) lots and lots of pain relief, if and when it’s needed, euthanasia is probably out. But we’ll see if when the time comes he won’t agree with what the Buddhist blogger I referenced ultimately had to say:
In the end I think we have to follow the Buddha's teachings to think for ourselves and not just blindly follow a teacher who says that "this" is good and "that" is bad. We all have to find our own path and in the end no one can walk it for us.
And to that, all I have to say is, "AMEN!"
Dr. Patty Khuly