Sunday, June 12, 2005

An Ethical Dilemma-IX

In reply to a letter which read

“My sister aged 20 who is suffering from paralytic attack has had all kinds of treatment from various medical experts. No doctor has yet given hope of recovery. . . . She happened to be near me when I was reading your article on the killing of the Ashram calf. She said in an appealing tone, ‘Will you allow me to end my life? . . .’ She paused for a while, and after some reconsideration said, ‘Oh, how can I escape from my karma? I cannot avoid it; I can only postpone it by death. I suppose, then, Gandhiji is not right in killing the calf.’ . . . May I request you to consider the matter in Young India as I believe that many others may share the same opinion.”


November 28, 1928


I have your letter. I do not propose to deal with it in the pages of Young India for I am sure no one else is likely to draw the
deduction that you and your sister seem to have drawn from my writings. The whole of the case for a humanitarian ending of a creature’s life is based upon the assumption that whether belonging to the human species or a lower order if they had consciousness such a creature would not wish to live as I had assumed the calf would not in the circumstances in which it was placed and that there was no other service possible.

In your sister’s case you and many others are at her beck and call and you all consider it, and that rightly, a privilege to render what service you can and relieve her pain be it ever so little. Her momentary wish to have her life put an end to was purely philanthropic out of regard for the convenience of her nurses. She was wrong in her reasoning. What she considered was an inconvenience to her nurses was a privilege, or should be, in the latter’s estimation. And if she desired death, the nurses could not comply with her desire, for that compliance would be tantamount to shirking of an obvious duty.

The question of karma does not arise at all in either case. This has been repeatedly explained in the pages of Young India. If we were to bring in the law of karma in such matters, we would put an end to all effort. The working of the law of karma is an incessant, ever-going process; whereas you and your sister evidently assumed that certain actions were set in motion and that the motion in that straight direction continued uninterrupted without the operation of any further actions coming into play. The fact indeed is that every activity in nature is constantly interfering with the law of karma. Such interference is inherent in the law. For the law is not a dead, rigid, inert thing, but it is an ever-living, ever-growing mighty force.

Yours sincerely