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The International Writers Magazine
Reverend Father Antonio Hernández, O.M.D., A.B.F.
Founder of the Independent Order of American Buddhist Fathers

German saying, "To part without suffering"

A person who stands out in my mind is a handsome young man. He was married for a short time when he was diagnosed with chronically progressive Multiple Sclerosis. He knew he had a few brief, miserable years left, and he knew his young wife would be burdened beyond belief. They turned to a sort of shadowy man, one Dr. Kevorkian.

The good doctor helped this man end his life before he turned into one of the living dead. This young man was the first to avail himself of Dr. Kevorkian's services. Today, with several assisted suicides under his belt, Dr. Jack Kevorkian sits in jail, a victim of undue process and a Constitutionally violated person. My support for him is something I do not take lightly, since I've meditated for years about what he did: I can never forget the first person to approach the doctor for help- especially because I have Multiple Sclerosis.

Euthanasia is a good solution to a horrible circumstance that no one should be forced to decide. It may strike the reader as a surprise that I, a Buddhist monk, would advocate euthanasia. However, at least in America, suicide and euthanasia have been unnecessarily anathematized for too long. Suicide was considered a crime not long ago- what sort of logic is that? Does anyone other than the unfortunate suicide have anything to say about it? If a person is in so much pain as to desire death, which of us can step forward and claim to have something better than death to offer that person? It's the same with euthanasia.

Dr. Kevorkian asked the courts, if they convicted him, what they would do to alleviate the plights of patients like those he'd helped end their lives. I ask the same question. When I brought my beloved 83-year-old mother back home from her last doctor appointment - after they told us the cancer had run over her like a truck- she lay down on the couch and said to me, "Me quiero morir." ("I want to die.") I told her gently, "I know, Mom, I understand. But I can't do anything about it, because they'll take me away to jail!"

She smiled lovingly, closed her eyes and nodded her head. Because of our strong bond, our great love, she had basically asked me to somehow help her die. In other words, that I should take her life. Then of course she agreed that it was out of the question. My dear grandmother had requested the same thing of me, when she became terminally ill. I think of them often - I miss them horribly. Then I always think that if only I had been strong enough... if only... then they would not have suffered the lingering, awful deaths they both had to endure.

Why must we as a society feel that tearing, rending burden? Isn't old age, illness and death a natural part of life? Do we not seek out the best way to deal with suffering? I offer a challenge: who has a better answer than death for a terminal, desperate patient who wishes to die? Don't misconstrue my argument: I am no Hitler.

What the state needs is a legal way for all of us to make this decision FOR OURSELVES, while we are still healthy and sound. The medical community needs to accept the ethics of Dr. Kevorkian, which were intended only to ease permanent suffering. So no one can claim, "OH! Suicide and euthanasia are permanent solutions to a temporary problem!" Someone actually said this to me- I had never heard anything so asinine. Especially after the experience of two of my own family members turning to me for euthanasia.

A dire situation won't be solved by religions, platitudes, condescension or tired clichés. Let someone try that with a patient dying of cancer or Multiple Sclerosis. In a real-life situation, sounds pretty lame all of a sudden, doesn't it? For nearly two decades I wondered how I would live with myself, because my grandmother died after 7 months of misery in a home. There was no way I could honor her request for euthanasia. When someone who is still of sound mind asks for death, we cannot take it lightly, which is what we automatically do. We cannot say their request for death proves an unsound mind. We must face the request head-on, even if we ultimately fail.

Creating thorough laws, making euthanasia as easy and painless as possible for everyone, will spare tens of thousands of people suffering unimaginable torment. At the same time, it will PREVENT euthanasia in cases where it has not been requested. Think of it: how many people have had "the plug pulled" without their direct consent? How is this different from an alert patient who asks for the 'plug to be pulled'? In fact, it is only when the patient is the one who asks that the plug be pulled that everything goes haywire. Suddenly, the patient has lost all rights. Especially if it is the patient who does the plug-pulling.

In Zen Buddhism we honor a legendary monk, Rev. San Te. He was a monk of the Shao-lin Temple who used to enjoy occasionally slaughtering frogs or chickens to eat. He also had no compunction about killing mosquitoes and flies. For these reasons he was sanctioned by several of his fellow monks, who went to complain to the abbot.
But the abbot responded, "We are Buddhists. Buddhists must be merciful." The lesson was that we must consider, mercifully and compassionately, each person, each case, individually. We must not throw the wrench of a pre-conceived notion into every situation we encounter.

As an extension of Buddhist teaching, I believe that when suffering patients finally feel driven to ask for death, we are obligated to act for them. After laws are established, a system must be in place to handle requested euthanasia, because most people cannot handle the scenario even when they must. Do we not have the obligation to remove someone's suffering, if we are asked? Even if it means a request for euthanasia?
Sadly, our best hope for the success of this new thinking is languishing in prison. Our other best hope, suffering patients who want to die, are languishing in their beds, powerless, voiceless, tormented and ignored.

(Or move to Holland where it is legal : Ed)

Rev Hernandez asks 'Are You A Good Driver'?

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