+1 vote
by (730 points)
I come across situations in which I have to coercively assist with care to prevent harm to life, malninutrion , starvation,neglect etc. Which is not so bad and can be done without lying or frustration if  careful,  but then there are cases when the people who receive it do not want it? For example they do no want to eat for quite different  reasons, because they aren’t lucid,  don’t have recognition of food and have lost the impulse to eat , or sometimes more intentionally , they are lucid, in pain and are trying to let go of life through depriving themselves.  

But I am expected to make sure they keep on living. I am particularly unsure if the act of pushing someone to sustain their life despite it being a distressing process for them( and in some cases even the results of living longer is also painful ) is unwholesome. Do I read this situation where they say please don’t give me anymore as a request for kindness? Or does is prolonging life too important that we can dismiss this.

Anyway I am considering if I should give up these duties based on worries about this, however take full responsibility for whatever decision I make.

Please can you share possible advice or resources which may help me to approach this matter?

1 Answer

+1 vote
by (18.8k points)

A mother may force a stubborn kid to eat green healthy foods out of compassion. But she knows it's just a passing phase. Once the kid becomes matured, he will no longer require such coercive supervision. A nurse might do the same for a patient who is recovering. You might grab a gun from a person who is just about to commit suicide. Or you might physically restrain a person who is just about to jump off of a bridge.

But if there is no hope of improvement as in if the person is going to be in a retarded state for the rest of his life, I do not see a use for being coercive to keep a body alive. So you have to make the judgement on a case by case basis to determine which person has a chance to improve. Maybe some of them are lucid enough that you might be able to get them to willingly participate in doing good deeds. That could help them to get a better birth next time.

Using force is always a dangerous line to walk on no matter how convinced you are that it is beneficial to the other person. For example, in certain African communities, they mutilate genitals of young girls thinking that it will help them to have more self control in sex. A mother blinded with ignorance might allow this to be done to her daughter thinking that it's good for her. Religious extremist parents might torture gay and lesbian kids thinking that it will make them straight. Or they might prevent the kids from attending school. Young girls might be forced to wrap themselves up in black clothing from head to heals or get forcibly married to wealthy old men and so on.

So it is tough to give a blanket answer that fits all situations. Use of non-lethal force can be justified in certain situations, but you have to be extremely careful in making that judgement call. If an unwise person overestimates himself and think that he is qualified to make decisions for others, many people could suffer as a result.

Upekkha(Equanimity) is a wonderful quality to cultivate. It is just as important as compassion, if not more. It is also one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. So next time you come across a situation where things are leading towards coercion, try to practice Upekkha unless you are sure it's beneficial to both parties.

Equanimity is characterized as promoting the aspect of neutrality towards beings. Its function is to see equality in beings. It is manifested as the quieting of resentment and approval. Its proximate cause is seeing ownership of deeds(kamma) thus: “Beings are owners of their deeds. Whose [if not theirs] is the choice by which they will become happy, or will get free from suffering, or will not fall away from the success they have reached?”
 - Visuddhimagga

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