men-crossing“Your mind state at the
time you draw your last breath
is crucial, for upon this hinges the
subsequent direction and
embodiment of the life force.
Only with a disciplined and
spiritually prepared mind can
you hope to resist the pull
of old patterns of craving and
clinging as your final energies
are slipping away. The
impulses of thought, feeling, and
perception all gather together
in this last breath with
great potency … ”

—Philip Kapleau Roshi

So exactly which last breath is the roshi talking about here? The last breath taken before lapsing into coma or vegetative state? The last breath taken before being placed on a respirator? Or the last breath taken when a court orders the respirator removed, one year later?

Dying in the midst of modern technology is a complicated matter. Western medicine’s tendency toward aggressive treatment has joined with our cultural antipathy toward death to create an extraordinary situation: afraid of being caught alone and suffering in an impersonal technological nightmare, people are fighting for the “right” to die. 

Euthanasia is an ancient issue. There have always been instances in which people killed either themselves or another as a humane act to end suffering. In this country, in the early part of the century, the act commonly evoked euphemisms such as putting a sick animal “to sleep.” After World War II it became associated with concentration camps, murder, and Nazism, acquiring a stigma that persisted for years. In fact, euthanasia means “good death.” Of course, what is “good” and what is not depends on your point of view. 

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