Questions and Discussion: Euthanesia: Energy: The Constitution of Humanity
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at the Convent of the Cenacle, Grayshott, Hampshire on 19th June 1982
PM: The question is: “If, as you say, elderly people have degenerated into vegetables, would you advise supporting euthanasia?”
It is a very important question which is exercising the minds of many people quite seriously, and there are of course arguments for and against it. One of the difficulties could arise this way. If euthanasia is going to be allowed in society, it is perhaps possible for a man or a woman who murders somebody to bring evidence that that person took to euthanasia. But of course you know the good old saying, “Murder will out.” Somehow or other he is found out. Of course in this era of so much violence, callous, cold-blooded, premeditated murder, of which we have many examples, some of them not so very far from here (and we know of examples in many of the continents of the world), sometimes the murderer cannot be found out. But if somebody uses that as an argument and actually he has committed a murder and it was not a case of the sufferer himself or herself taking his or her own life, then that is one of the difficulties, if society allows euthanasia. But it seems to me that if people have become very old, they have lost their faculties, their minds are just cabbages, so to say, it would be merciful to allow them recourse to euthanasia. We are responsible for our own lives after we are born — not immediately after, of course! But in due time, when we grow to adulthood, we are responsible for our own lives, and, if one takes one’s own life as a retreat from society, a retreat from the difficulties of life, then it is surely a mistake. That sort of suicide is a mistake. There are occasions when, even when one is in one’s younger years, one suffers so much illness or whatever it is, that life becomes utterly impossible, and if it is a case of unbearable pain physically, certainly, and possibly also psychically, perhaps euthanasia might be regarded as allowable. But in the case of people who are in their late seventies, eighties, nineties, who are quite, as the question says, degenerated into vegetables, who have really lost their faculties and wish that they were dead altogether, (it is too much for them to bear), it seems to me that euthanasia should be permitted. Perhaps they can have safeguards by having some sort of medical consent in the matter, maybe a panel of doctors, or something like that. I don’t know what you feel about it, don’t think that I have got to do all the talking! What do you feel about it? Anybody?
Student A: I think it is generally accepted within the medical profession that, when children are sadly lacking in their proper faculties and so on, it is believed that it is not worthwhile their living any more, and treatment is withdrawn. I think this is a very accepted thing. When this was talked about on the television recently, no one had the courage to say so, when one man came under attack over it and everyone argued around the point. They were spastic children they were talking about.
PM: There was a case recently when the child was allowed to die, you remember? It came out on TV too.
Student B: Wasn’t the doctor had up for murder?
PM: He was acquitted. It is a very difficult question.
Student C: The medical profession have two methods of dealing with this. One is “N.R.” by the side of the bed in the hospital, “No Resuscitation”, in other words, let that person peacefully pass on. In the case of acute advanced cancer, when pain is rising constantly, then morphine is given to catch up, then pain, then morphine, and the morphine gets greater than the pain, and I understand there is something applied which is the finish.
PM: Perhaps one might institute something like this, that if the patient himself really requests that he or she be allowed to die, then doctors should be allowed to do the needful, if in their judgement also for this person to continue living would be something too terrible to endure. Of course if a person himself has a different view of life and feels that, whatever happens in terms of pain and sorrow, he should continue to live and try to understand, if there is that sort of spiritual urge from within himself, then, even though he suffers so much, let him live, because any person’s effort to understand the whole problem of sorrow and pain has an influence upon his surroundings, there is a physical influence always. The act of thinking, or speaking, influences the physical atmosphere, and it may be that, if he is capable of seeing things in a profound way, then he is doing good to his fellow human beings without his knowing it, so to say. But I dare say that that sort of situation is extremely rare, there are very few people who are willing to have that attitude towards sheer physical pain and grief. So much depends on how we are brought up, right from the beginning. That I think is one of our great troubles in life. From the very beginning the little child grows up in the atmosphere of enjoyment, “Let us enjoy life, let us be happy, let us have fun, let us have pleasure,” and so on and so forth. And so the whole outlook on life is a warped outlook right from childhood. People don’t realise that there is a purpose in our individual human existence, and it is only insofar as that purpose is understood, even in a limited degree, and thereafter the attempt is made to live by standards and behaviour in harmony with that purpose, that life is worth living. Then only do we really grow towards our true humanity. Sometimes that purpose of existence is presented to some children. The parents do their best along that line. Maybe the priest, the schoolteacher could help, and, if it is not a presentation which conditions the child too powerfully, makes him a fanatic or something like that, then it is helpful. But we haven’t got that.
We have this wonderful song about “Britons never, never shall be slaves,” but not only Britons but the whole world is in abject slavery to its animal drives, there is no getting away from that fact. We are the slaves of our pleasure-drive and the drive to be somebody, which always means at the expense of the other body. Hence competition arises. If it just stops at ordinary playful competition, football matches and the like, no serious harm is done, although even that nowadays produces a great deal of trouble! But when this competition becomes a national affair between nations and all sorts of international difficulties arise, then we get wars and so forth. Wars may be a useful way, occasionally, of keeping world population down and preventing the population explosion up to a point, but it is a most horrible way really, and especially modern war. You have all I am sure seen the TV pictures of the British soldiers who have come back from the Falkland Islands, when their ship was hit by those Exocet missiles. It is a terrible thing that man can do that, and will do that. And we are the people who claim to be the advanced nations of the world. Advanced in what? In stupidity, cruelty, wickedness, lust for possessions, power and all the rest of it? And we claim to be the educated people of the world, and we make it our mission sometimes to go abroad and convert the heathen and give him some sort of education and so forth. There were very noble-sounding ideals, particularly in the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries. Just to take one example out of many, in 1828, I believe, when Lord William Bentinck was Governor-General in India, he got the authorities to vote for £10,000 to be devoted to the education of the Indian people — in what? In English history, English political ideals, Christianity, and so on and so on. It is to the credit of the British people that years later George Nathaniel Curzon, “that very superior person”, criticised this educational system which was introduced into India. And he also foresaw that people in India brought up on this very same educational system, on the English language, English literature and everything English, and were conditioned to believe that whatever England stood for was the supreme thing in the world, were the very people who ultimately founded the Indian National Congress, and in 1947 the British Raj departed*. You see, we have to be very careful about our ideals. We think this is a good thing, the right thing, but we do not have sufficient vision to see the possible, perhaps probable, consequences in the future.
In so many respects great good was done by the whole series of Governors-General and the Viceroys who followed them after 1857, great good was done, and India reaps the benefit of that to this day. Slowly India is acknowledging those things. When I was sent round by the Ministry of Information and later on by the Central Office of Information to lecture all over this country on India, Indian culture and so forth and the British connection with India, I think I was one of the first to point out all the essential good that Britain did in India and which India is now enjoying the benefits of, particularly for instance the administration of justice. The British system of administration of justice is probably the most advanced in the modern world, and fair. Also materially there was the connecting up of all India by roads and railways and so forth, and doing so many things to counter the ravages of famine and disease. Those were the good things. So I am not suggesting that, in those cases where one nation does good, according to its own views, to another nation, it is always to the benefit of the ruling power. It is altruistic on the one hand and it is also lacking in vision in some respects on the other hand. In the early years, when the first Governors-General were there, particularly Lord Cornwallis in the 1790’s, laws were passed in England through his initiative which prevented anyone from England going to India and setting up machinery. That absolutely destroyed the textile trade of India, and all the wonderful textiles that they manufactured went by the board. In several other respects like that there were mistakes made, but then we are all human! Even I make mistakes, you know!! So, going back to euthanasia…
Student D: There’s a great difference between withdrawing life support and treatment that keeps life going, and actually administering euthanasia, isn’t there?
PM: Yes, there is, well, it brings the same result.
Student D: Yes, but I think it’s very difficult. I’ve worked quite a lot with geriatric patients and with mentally handicapped children and I think it’s a very difficult question, because I’ve seen some geriatric patients, not vegetables, of whom one might have thought, “My goodness, they wish to die”, when you see them in a hospital ward with nothing much being done for them. But, in my case, if you sort of give them a paintbrush, you’d be amazed at what they do. A lot depends on the attitude of the people around them and what they think possible sometimes, and the same with mentally handicapped children. I think it’s often very individual and really it’s something that can’t be legislated about. It must depend on the moment, both with handicapped children and euthanasia. If you legislate it, it might legalise a lot of…
PM: Undesirable things.
Student D: Yes, attitudes, enclosed attitudes.
Student E: May I draw attention here to something? There are two things. There will always be misuse of something irrespective of what it is, because of the nature of the majority of human beings. Euthanasia is something which should be gone into when the person concerned (and I agree whole-heartedly that it is an absolutely individual thing, it can never be a mass thing) is in full command of their faculties, and that that becomes something for consideration. I feel this links up very closely with Phiroz’s talk on death. It’s useless obviously when someone is in the state of senility, in extremis, so that they couldn’t possibly consider anything at all. There are circumstances where it is possible to draw attention to your wishes when you are still, as I say, in full command of your faculties. Your medical doctor, if he is in sympathy with you, in rapport with you, will certainly be of great assistance.
PM: Another question?
Student F: If two or more people come together and they talk about realities, seriously and with attention, nearly always at the end all the people, or the two people, find they have more energy. Where does that energy come from?
PM: There are so many layers of the mind. Don’t think of the layers as though they were a pile of books one on top of the other. Shall I put it this way? There are so many intensities of attentiveness by the mind. When one deals with something which is of real importance from the life point of view, then it calls out hidden latent energies from the whole being, the psycho-physical being. As the participants proceed with their investigation, so to say, by exchanging views, ideas and so forth, there is this energy which they draw upon, which normally they cannot draw upon just by themselves. That is why that is a great help. Does that answer your question?
Student F: Yes, I think so. Only it seems to me so mysterious.
PM: Yes, it is extraordinary what depths there are within the psyche, tremendous depths, and they are sources of great energy and great power, psychical energy, so that if one touches that in the deeps of consciousness, then it energizes the whole psycho-physical organism. That is how it happens. Mind you, age has something to do with it also. When one passes a certain age, which is probably special to that individual, this phenomenon doesn’t take place, because the organism is too much on the ‘departing platform’ rather than the ‘arriving platform’! Therefore no benefit results, but as long as one is healthy in the full sense of the word, one is always energized if the discussion or whatever it is takes place along the right lines, there is always energy which is drawn upon.
Student G: There has been a programme on the television about the human brain, and, it’s too complicated, I can’t possibly explain exactly what I’m thinking of, but the fact of discussion causes adrenaline, doesn’t it?
PM: It brings about the flow of adrenaline.
Student G: It then gives you energy from that source.
PM: Anger also will do it. The question is whether it is the sort of adrenaline which polishes you off or polishes you up!
Student H: That was adrenaline they talked about so much, and where fear comes from. In what part of the brain is fear engendered, and where did it come from?
Student I: Would you say that the majority of people are satisfied with what might be called the mundane state of life, have no wish whatsoever to come to the higher realms which you speak of and to which you know people have arrived? Do you think that the majority of people would not be at all interested?
PM: That is quite true.
Student I: I wonder why that is.
PM: They are constituted that way. Take for instance the fact that the world produces just a few geniuses, an occasional genius here, there or wherever it is. But the bulk of us are what we call ordinary folk, and some are extraordinary the wrong way! So that is how the world is at its present stage of development. After all, we’ve been only three or four million years on the globe. During that period considerable changes have taken place, structurally, physically and with the brain too, and so forth, and here we are at present, as we are. If we don’t misbehave to the extent of destroying ourselves altogether, it will take a few million years before we are really adult humans. You know, the meaning of the word human consists of hu–, which is the prefix which is equivalent to su–, and –man, which is the Sanskrit root of the word mind. Su– or hu– means ‘happy’, and mind in this context is not just a person’s brain capacity, it’s something much deeper and much greater than that. It is the creative, formative agency throughout the universal process, mind in its profundity. So the human being really means the happy creator. That’s just what we say of God, don’t we?
Student I: We don’t always allude to God as being particularly happy. If there is such a thing, I should think that he’d be pretty miserable sometimes with the awful things that go on amongst his people!
PM: Shall I put it this way? God is very happy when we do right. When we do wrong and suffer for our stupidity, God is equally happy! He enjoys himself saying, “Serve those people right, why don’t they live as they ought to live?”!
Student J: Each person seems to have his own constitution, a sort of blueprint, which he can either fulfil or he can’t. But he can’t go beyond that. A person is born with, let’s say, very bad faults, and you can’t blame the person — I mean, one does — but you can’t in fact blame him for having these things which could be considered faults.
PM: There is no question of blame involved in it. That is how it is, and that person behaves like that and enjoys or suffers life in his particular way, and spreads either happiness or suffering to others, because no one is entirely alone. Even a hermit who lives in a cave and is not visited by anybody at all, even he is affecting society all the time by his very existence and presence, because there is the effect of our feelings and thoughts which spread out all the time. Each feeling or thought perhaps may be compared to a stone dropped in a pond, and the ripples go out to the edge of the pond. So you see, even if a person lives entirely by himself, he is affecting life all the time by the very fact of his existence.