Thursday, May 31, 2007

Euthanasia and ethics in practice...

Today I had a really interesting experience. It started with coming home from work and feeling mentally exhausted, so I thought I'd try to get in some light meditation just to calm down. I didn't really want to do it on my back porch like I usually do because it was rather noisy around my neighborhood this time of day, so I got on my bike and went to my favorite secluded pond in the back woods a little bit. That's where things got a little weird.

I walked around the shoreline of this pond (almost big enough to be a lake) just to get some mud between my toes and relax my heart rate a little bit after the bike ride there. In the water I noticed one unusually huge largemouth bass floating on the surface. It looked a little torn up and wasn't moving, so I just assumed it was dead. No big deal. Fish die in lakes all the time. Granted, this was a huge fish (about two feet long, which is a ginormous bass), but a fairly regular occurance. Just when I was about to get into my meditation position, the fish flopped. Weird....

I watched for a few minutes as this bass sporadically flopped in the water, obviously suffering from some massive injury and getting ready to die. It really bothered me. Should I just watch this fish suffer? Should I kill it and put it out of its misery? If I were the fish, what would I want done to me? I pondered for about ten minutes, pacing the shoreline. Eventually, I came to a conclusion. I'm not sure whether it was right or not, but I made a decision.

I waded into the water and grabbed this giant fish. I stared it in the eyes for a little bit and then set it on the dock to die. I couldn't gather the courage to crush it and kill it myself, but I figured I'd speed up the process and end its suffering. The way I saw it, it was an act of compassion to help kill this fish. It was going to die either way. One way it was slow and terrible, the other it was over in a couple of minutes.

After discussion with Lindsey, I realized something that I think is important. While I was pacing and thinking about what to do, I wanted to make sure that I whatever I did (or didn't do, as would be the case had I left the fish to its own misery), I had thought it out. I didn't want to leave the fish alone just because I didn't know what to do. I made a decision on purpose, which I think is part of the intrigue for me. For me, not making a decision at all is just as bad as making the wrong decision, but I could very well be wrong. I'm not enlightened. Thoughts?

I don't know. I just thought I'd share it with you guys and maybe open up some interesting discussion and hear some other points of view on a matter like this. What do you all think? Is it okay to aid in the death of something suffering or am I going to be a largemouth bass for the next fifty lifetimes?


lindsey said...

I hope you come back as a fish.
I would totally flush you out of compassion.

I can't even seriously comment on this blog entry I'm so irrationally freaked out. Thanks.

lindsey said...

Sorry about being a brat. I've been thinking about this for awhile, but no real conclusions yet. A few things though...

First, karma isn't instantaneous, especially not in Buddhism. You won't be a fish in your next life time because you helped that fish die, but it may come back in another way. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not this life time, maybe not the next fifty life times. Karma isn't just about rebirth. It affects the blessings and woes we experience in our day to day lives.

Second, I'm trying to understand this whole "It was better to make the wrong decision than no decision" thing. That sounds dangerous to me.

So what you're saying is it would be better for me to make a decision that I believe in God and God wants me to kill another race of people than to be agnostic and stay in my bed all day?

Inaction might be a tragedy...but I'd rather be guilty of not acting than harming something.

And finally...have a little compassion and loving-kindness towards me and my fish fear. I promise I'll never chew on chalk around you. Irrational or not, fish still give me the heebee jeebees.

Themindtaker said...

Hmm, I don't think you were being a very good Buddhist here. When early Buddhists set out to regulate monastic life from the teachings and sutras of the Buddha himself, they established a small handful of sins that could get you kicked out of any Buddhist monastery; one of which being that you should never take a life. That's why Buddhist monks adhere to a vegetarian diet, so they never have to destroy life to sustain their own.

On top of this, a fish does not have the cognitive capacity to see his own life/death dilemma, and therefor couldn't even make that decision for itself. Who are you to decide what's best for the fish? He was going to die anyway? We're all going to die, and I for one don't believe that life is pointless. Yes, I saw Million Dollar Baby, and I really liked it, but at least Hillary Swank got to make the decision for herself, something the fish could never do.

Also, Lazarus smelled terrible when he emerged from the tomb. This means he had already started decomposing a bit, or at least that a goodly amount of bacteria had taken up residence in his body. Jesus brought him back to life as a testament to the blessing that is life, regardless of the fact that in the year 30 they lacked the antiseptics to properly clean the newly arisen Lazarus. I'm sure he suffered a little after coming back from the dead, but it was enough that Christ had given him back the most precious gift: life.

It's noble of you to desire to end the suffering of an innocent animal, and it sounds like your heart is in the right place. But sometimes life is suffering, and maybe we need that sometimes to know that we are alive. One way or the other, it wasn't a justification of death in this case. The phrase "justification of death" seems ludicrous to me anyway.