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Mahātmā Gandhi's view on euthanasia and assisted suicide
  1. Joris Gielen
  1. Correspondence to Dr Joris Gielen, Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Religion and World View, Catholic University Leuven, Leuven 3000, Belgium; joris.gielen{at}


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.

  • Gandhi
  • euthanasia
  • assisted suicide
  • non-violence
  • palliative care
  • pain management
  • prolongation of life and euthanasia
  • religious ethics

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  • Funding The author has received funds as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the Fund for Scientific Research—Flanders (FWO). The FWO did not have any role in the study design, interpretation of the data, writing of the article, and the decision to submit the paper for publication. Grant Number 1.1.563.07.N.00.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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