What is the Hindu beliefs on euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering by administering lethal dose to the person on his/her own request, who is suffering from an incurable and painful disease or is in an irreversible coma. It is only allowed in a very few countries. Australia does not allow it legally.

Hinduism does not support active euthanasia or “assisted killing”. Hindus believe in the Karma principle and rebirth. Hindus believe that we are not the body. We are the Atman, which never dies. It takes many births according to its Karmas. The ultimate aim of life is Moksha, freedom from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth. If the life is intentionally ended one takes those Karmas to his/her next life. Thus prolonging that cycle.

However, there is a practice in Hinduism called Prayopavesa (in Sanskrit), which allows a person to end his/her own life by fasting to death. Such a person has no desires or ambitions left and has no responsibilities remaining in life. The decision to undertake this practice has to be declared by the person well in advance. There are examples of such practice undertaken in recent times. In 1982, Acharya  Vinoba Bhave  (spiritual successor of Mahatma Gandhi) died by prayopavesa. In November 2001, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami of Himalayan Hindu Academy, Hawaii USA subjected himself to prayopavesa. He was diagnosed to be suffering from terminal intestinal cancer. He later died on the 32nd day of his fast.

The mention of such a practice is found in the Hindu Scripture of Bhagavat Puran. It is mentioned that when the king Parikshit was observing  prayopavesa, sage Suka, son of sage Vyasa narrated Bhagvat Puran to him. When one is fasting one should do prayers and listen to holy scriptures.