J Med Ethics. 2012 Feb 28. [Epub ahead of print]
To many in India and elsewhere, the life and thoughts of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi are a source of inspiration. The idea of non-violence was pivotal in his thinking. In this context, Gandhi reflected upon the possibility of what is now called ‘euthanasia’ and ‘assisted suicide’. So far, his views on these practices have not been properly studied. In his reflections on euthanasia and assisted suicide, Gandhi shows himself to be a contextually flexible thinker. In spite of being a staunch defender of non-violence, Gandhi was aware that violence may sometimes be unavoidable. Under certain conditions, killing a living being could even be an expression of non-violence. He argued that in a few rare cases it may be better to kill people who are suffering unbearably at the end of life. In this way, he seems to support euthanasia and assisted suicide. Yet, Gandhi also thought that as long as care can be extended to a dying patient, his or her suffering could be relieved. Since in most cases relief was thus possible, euthanasia and assisted suicide were in fact redundant. By stressing the importance of care and nursing as an alternative to euthanasia and assisted suicide, Gandhi unconsciously made himself an early advocate of palliative care in India. This observation could be used to strengthen and promote the further development of palliative care in India.