TODAY, traditional concepts of suicide and homicide have become blurred by phrases like "mercy killing" and "doctor-assisted suicide."

In 1996 Australia's Northern Territory legalized voluntary euthanasia. In January of 1997, contending forces in the U.S. pushed the issue of euthanasia all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Advocates of doctor-assisted suicide say its purpose is to end the unremitting and excruciating pain that often comes with diseases like terminal cancer. But does suicide really stop pain?

According to Vedic wisdom, the answer is no. Rather, suicide prolongs pain and even increases it. From the Vedas we learn that the eternal soul, or atma, lives on after death. For the soul, the Bhagavad-gita says, "there is neither birth nor death." At the time of death the soul reincarnates, or transmigrates from one body to another.

According to the law of karma, the soul who has attained a human body has been put there to reform his life and finally attain liberation, in a spiritual body free from birth and death. The soul's term in the human form is a type of captivity. How long he stays captive and how much he enjoys or suffers depend on his previous acts. To kill oneself or someone else interrupts the soul's prescribed term of embodiment. This goes against natural law, or God's law, and generates further reactions or penalties.

By karmic law, one who commits suicide becomes a ghost. A ghostly or astral "body" consists of mind, intelligence, and false ego. The soul living in such a subtle body keeps his personality, his desires for human relationships, and his physical desires such as thirst, hunger, and the sex drive. But because of the soul's disembodied state, he cannot satisfy these desires.

Ghosts routinely wander for years, their natural desires raging unfulfilled. In an effort to fulfill such desires, ghosts sometimes haunt or possess another person's body.

So while suicide may apparently give relief from days, months, or years of physical or mental suffering, a lifetime of unabated misery is destined to follow.

Physicians who take part in euthanasia and doctor-aided suicide are unnaturally ending the soul's prescribed bodily lifetime. In the Netherlands, such acts are formally illegal, yet the courts have been allowing many exceptions to the law. Every year about one thousand documented cases come to light in which doctors cause or hasten death even without the patient's request. Almost routinely, such violations go unpunished. Unlike civil law, however, karma is infallible and inescapable. According to karma, the lives of such doctors will be cut short in their next birth, often by acts of violence.

Karmic considerations aside, what may be even more surprising is that euthanasia is most often performed for reasons other than to relieve physical pain.

The most comprehensive study of the Dutch experience with euthanasia is the 1991 Remelink Report, which showed that "pain was a factor motivating requests for euthanasia in less than half of all cases. More importantly, pain was the sole motivating factor in just 5% of euthanasia cases." A study of physicians who care for nursing-home patients in the Netherlands found that pain was the main rationale in only eleven percent of euthanasia requests. In the U.S., a Washington state study of doctors who performed euthanasia or assisted suicide found that pain figured in only thirty-five percent of the requests.

According to Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a professor at Harvard Medical School, euthanasia is "a way of avoiding the complex and arduous efforts required of doctors and other health-care providers to ensure that dying patients receive humane, dignified care."

The main reasons for which people want euthanasia depression, isolation, psychological maladjustment, and lack of care reveal a pervasive spiritual vacuum. In an increasingly secular society, God has been consigned to a minor role. And godlessness has bred callousness. As the world becomes more materialistic and divorced from spiritual principles, so godly qualities like gratitude, tolerance, self-control, peacefulness, family unity, and human kindness retreat further and further into the background.

The science of Krsna consciousness, which gives knowledge of the soul and karma, needs to be pervasively and systematically taught throughout the world. Only such education can rejuvenate a desacralized society and return us to our normal, natural position of love, with an understanding of who we really are and where we are going.

Whatever the U.S. Supreme Court, the Australian Parliament, or other government bodies decide, involuntary euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are likely to proliferate. Without understanding the nature of the self and its movements through time and space, more people will blindly try to reduce suffering by acting in ways that will only serve to prolong and increase it.

One Big Difference

Ravi Gupta

ON MAY 11, Deep Blue defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov. The IBM-programmed computer played against the person who was once the world's greatest chess player. Not anymore. Now the computer has outrun the human mind. The media have abounded with headlines on the battle between man and machine.

Newsweek asked, "The Brain's Last Stand: Can Kasparov Save the Human Race?"

But how much of a battle is it really? Are we truly in danger of being out-smarted by machines? Is the defeat (or Kasparov's previous victory) really that momentous?

Not according to the Vedic scriptures of India. The Vedas teach that there is a fundamental difference between matter and spirit, between life and machine. There is something very basic that the most sophisticated computer lacks, and that is consciousness. Consciousness is what makes the difference between us and the matter we manipulate.

And consciousness is the symptom of the soul. Just as the sun pervades the entire solar system with its heat and light, so the spirit soul, within the body of every living creature, imbues the body with consciousness.

In the Bhagavad-gita, the jewel of India's spiritual wisdom, Lord Krsna gives a very convincing argument for the existence of the spirit soul. He says that throughout the course of our lives, we change bodies from childhood to youth to adulthood and finally to old age. Yet we know that we are the same person we were ten years ago.

What is the continuing element that stays through these changes of bodies?

It is the spirit soul.

When the body cannot change any more and the spiritual spark leaves, the body shows itself for what it really is a dead, though very sophisticated, machine.

That the spirit soul can design another machine that's better at doing certain functions than the machine the soul presently inhabits is not at all surprising. After all, we have created machines that run faster, see clearer, hear better, aim sharper, and lift more than the human machine. What is so amazing if we come up with one that calculates future moves on a chessboard faster than the human?

Both matter and spirit are energies and creations of God, and they are emanating from Him. Krsna describes these two energies in the Gita: "Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego these eight comprise My separated material energies. Besides these there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature."

It is only when we start thinking that the machine can replace life that the confusion begins. The more sophisticated our machines become, the closer we think we are to creating life. But there is a chasm between life and matter. Without the spiritual touch, the material energy cannot do anything on its own. Without the IBM programmers, Deep Blue would have refused to play.