Question: If one is already pronounced brain dead, is it alright to unplug from life support?
Answer: In the Buddhist perspective, the clear answer is no. As long as the body is still alive, the consciousness is still within. This is why there should be ample guidance followed by ample support-chanting, to encourage the patient to sincerely and swiftly be mindful of the name of Amitā(bha) Buddha – ‘Āmítuófó’, until he is seen, to follow him to his Pure Land, to be free from suffering.
Once this occurs, the body will shut down by itself, with the consciousness having unplugged itself from the body. No body can be forcibly and artificially kept alive indefinitely, as death of the body is karmically inevitable. For example, a son was hesitating to turn off life support for his Father when the doctor told him he could. Thankfully, shortly after, his Father passed away naturally.
While merits from our personal Niànfó practice (of mindfulness of Āmítuófó with the right Faith and Aspiration) can be dedicated to relieve some suffering for the patient, what more crucial is guidance of the patient to personally Niànfó in the mind, to connect to Āmítuófó.
In the Buddha’s time, when an Arhat enters samādhi (meditative concentration), the liberated consciousness can leave the body for a maximum of 7 days, while the body remains alive. If the consciousness does not return, the body will shut down by itself.
Thus, if a body is not shut down by itself, one’s consciousness is still there – since unlikely to be liberated like an Arhat. And if the consciousness is no longer there, the body will shut down automatically and swiftly. There should thus be no hurry to unplug. If still alive after many days despite no hope of recovery, there should simply be more guidance with support-chanting.
The concept of brain death is relatively recent, defined partly for the harvesting of organs while they are fresh, when the body is NOT totally and naturally shut down yet. The exact definitions of brain death are different worldwide too, which means there is no universal agreement on this state.
There are also cases of those pronounced brain dead, who ‘return’ to life. This is proof that the mind is NOT the brain, thus with consciousness’ presence not always detectable as brain activity. While the consciousness might function through and with the brain when well and alive, this is not always so.
To unplug is to force sudden death upon the patient, who is unlikely to be adequately prepared to die, to enter an unknown bardo state, with uncertainty of what to do. Once the consciousness is forced to disconnect from the body, it is dangerous as the winds of karma can swiftly sweep one off, to be reborn in a less ideal destination, especially if having died with a disturbed state of mind.
Brain dead patients should thus be seen to be like coma patients, with their consciousnesses present. Just as one in coma should not be neglected, one brain dead should not be unplugged. To unplug is not to relieve suffering, just as not letting one breathe not only brings no relief, it aggravates suffering. This might lead to rebirth in an unfortunate realm if without timely guidance.
Even if the intention is surely not to kill, the effect of unplugging is surely that of killing. (A consolation is that karma is created based upon the intention.) Swift post-death (including funeral) chanting (as below) is crucial to offer clear direction if already unplugged, as the consciousness might still be around.
There is no need to dread high medical costs of maintaining a brain dead patient, as with enough sincere words of guidance and support-chanting, the consciousness can depart for Pure Land swiftly. Money should be among the least of concerns when it comes to helping loved ones secure the best rebirth.
The key concern should be how to most sincerely and swiftly guide the patient. There can also be honest confession to the patient if expenses are becoming unsustainable, requesting him or her to most sincerely Niànfó together, to relieve all involved of suffering, by connecting to Āmítuófó swiftly, to reach his Pure Land first. – Shwetahsiao
Is ‘Brain Death’ Actual Death?
‘The term “brain death” was invented in 1968 to accommodate the need to acquire vital organs in their “freshest” state from a donor who some argue is still very much alive. While death had previously been defined as lack of respiration and heart activity, “brain death” was judged as compatible with an otherwise living patient. “Brain death” has never been rigorously defined, and there are no standardized tests to determine if the condition exists.’
On Life After ‘Brain Death’
‘With just a ventilator, some biological processes — including kidney and gastric functions — can continue for about a week… Without the brain, the body does not secrete important hormones needed to keep biological processes — including gastric, kidney and immune functions — running for periods longer than about a week.’
What Should Be Chanted During & After A Funeral
Point : Considerations On Life Support & AMD