Spiritual folk: Is praying for someone to die acceptable?

OK, I’m not optimistic that this will stay in IMHO long, but I’m starting it here because I actually want opinions rather than argument. I’m sure the mods will move it if it gets out of hand, but can’t we all just get along? :wink:

A friend of the family is very ill, having suffered a catastropic event that affects her ability to communicate in any meaningful fashion or otherwise do anything more demanding than lie in a hospital bed or sit up, restrained, in a wheelchair. She is elderly, in her 70s, and has always been very independent, even reclusive. She will never be able to live independently again. Everyone in the family is aware that she would not approve of heroic measures being taken to keep her alive; she made that very clear in prior conversations. There is no issue with someone wanting to go against her wishes should the course of events lead to her death.

Now to what inspired my question. One member of her family who is very religious (but in a very reserved, church picnics, Bible study and charity work sort of way, not at all preachy) told me that he was going to ask his church to put her on their prayer circle or chain or whatever metaphor they use, but that he would be praying for her to die and be released from her suffering.

So, spiritual Dopers, do your beliefs allow you to pray for death for someone else? If so, is that only for deaths that would be considered by the majority to be “compassionate?” If you prayed for death for a loved one who was suffering, would you be able to share that with your fellows who share your spiritual beliefs? Do you or would you feel any conflict with other tenets of your faith? Please note that this is not just addressed to Christians; I’d like to hear the thoughts of posters from other religions or belief systems.

Just for the sake of full disclosure, I am an atheist, I do not believe in a deity/deities, and I do not pray, but I also don’t disrespect or scorn or abuse or mock people who believe otherwise.*

  • Unless they get all Bachmann-y on me, of course, in which case mockery is obligatory.

Praying for a release from suffering is appropriate. If the doctors have said there’s no hope for recovery and the patient has said she wants no extraordinary measures, then what I’d pray for is for events to take their course as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Of course, that isn’t the same as praying for someone to die while they’re still fighting to live, but the question seems to make that clear.

I am not what you would call religious, but I will point out that St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death. The Litany of St. Josephincludes prayers for those who are dying that they may have a happy death, and I believe that is what you mean. It isn’t praying that the ill will not die or will recover.

Agreed. I a person has no hope of recovery and is suffering with pain, what is wrong with asking for them to be released from their suffering.

This should not be taken to infer that I agree with assisted suicide.

I’ve always envied people who had saints of particular things. I didn’t know there was a patron saint of a happy death, but that’s pretty cool. I’m not very familiar with the Catholic side of things. I had one Catholic friend when I was a kid who asked me to join her family for mass, and I sat there silently the whole time because I thought the congregation would have me arrested if they found out I wasn’t Catholic. I have no idea where I picked up that notion.

I think there are times when a quick death is a merciful death. And there are certainly times when I’d be comfortable praying for an end to someone’s suffering, knowing that the most likely end to the suffering is death. But I’d be uncomfortable praying explicitly for someone to die, and I can’t imagine saying that I would pray for someone to die. I’d be much more likely to offer to pray for the family or for the situation.

I’m an atheist, but I’m sure if there was a God, he’d understand the true meaning behind the prayer, which is a wish for the woman to be released from her suffering. That could come with death, or with some miraculous cure. It’s the release that’s important, not how it comes about, and the good intentions of the prayers are what matter, not the technicalities of what they’re praying for.

(Did this thread remind anyone else of the scene in Anne’s House of Dreams, when Miss Cornelia feels bad that she prayed that the surgery on Dick wouldn’t work, and Anne reassures her that what she was really praying for was that things wouldn’t be made harder for Leslie, and that God had understood that? Just me? Okay.)

I just re-read the series (all eight books are now available as free e-books!), and I have to quote one other scene from the same volume:

I’m Catholic, and what I’ve been taught is that one typically offers intentions, and then leaves it to God to decide how that it should be achieved. The example I was given was something to the effect of “Pray for the starving people in Africa, but don’t decide if they should receive rain, aid, irrigation, etc.” So, I would pray for someone to be well, to not suffer, but not *specifically *to die. If death is they only release from suffering, then so be it.

When I read the title, I thought you were asking if it was OK to wish death on someone, like a hex or a curse. In which case I would be inclined to say no, religious or not. :stuck_out_tongue:

Well, being the unbeliever that I am, I’m not likely to be believing in things like hexes or curses, but I get your point. I try not to wish misery or pain on anybody just as a general principle. I could see myself wishing that someone would die if I thought that was what they would want, as in this case, but then I don’t have that aversion (not the exact word I want but I’m too sleepy to think) to death that seems to be part of many religions, so it isn’t a conflict for me.

I am not religious but I prayed for my mother to die. She died of cancer after an 8 year battle. For most of that time, things were…tolerable. The last year was bad; the last six months were brutal. For the last 2 months, she kept asking her doctors to die. I don’t know anyone who deserved to suffer like that in the end but but it wasn’t my mother. She deserved the painless death in bed with no warning after having a wonderful day with her family.
I have heard similar stories from other children who had parents die of cancer. It is truly a vile disease.

Yes. Praying for someone to die out of hate is wrong (because hate is wrong), but praying that someone who’s dying (specially someone who’s accepted his death) will get done with it, so those who are staying can go on living? Last I checked there were no commandments or canonic laws against it.

Praying for the death of someone who’s not dying is wrong even if some people would consider it compassionate. That’s a case where I would pray for that person and their family to do as well as they can, but again, who am I to decide that someone who’s blind and paralized is better off dead, when that same person and her sister and brother in law don’t think so? Yes, it’s an actual case, and I’ve seen someone say “oh, she’d be better off dead” and didn’t have time to chew them off myself because two other friends of the family were already doing it. The person who said that wanted the other one dead because their pressence was uncomfortable, not out of actual compassion. Someone who was compassionate would have wanted to know whether anything could be done to help, not merely get rid of the “problem” by killing her off.

Huh, another one. I love how so many things get very different names in Spanish and in English: in Spanish we say “la buena muerte”, “a good death”.

In this case, our friend is not necessarily dying but has serious damage to multiple body systems and would never again be able to live outside of a nursing facility. As far as we can tell she will never be able to enjoy her life again. She has always expressed a horror of exactly these conditions and her family member believes she would, if it were in her power, commit suicide to avoid this kind of existence. The rest of her family would agree with that opinion. As I understand your post, this would not meet the test of your beliefs.

I understand the sentiment you are expressing about people making assumptions about whether their loved one would be “better off dead,” but is it possible that there are cases where this is true? I think for me the distinction is between “being alive” and “living.” My friend will never actually “live” again, never be able to walk or have a conversation or do a crossword puzzle or laugh at a joke. She could remain “alive” for another 10 or 20 years at great cost (to taxpayers as she has little to no money) and using a lot of resources that are in short supply. I can’t speak for the people you mentioned in your example, but I think in my friend’s case praying for her death might be the morally correct thing to do.

You do bring up some good points, though. I am glad I won’t ever have to make this choice myself–about the praying, I mean. I think most of us will have to make the choice about letting a loved one die at some point.

I would simply pray that their suffering ends, and pray for strength for them and their loved ones. It isn’t up to me how God carries out his will.

Yes (but in this case would suggest the prayer she be released from suffering to eternal life, not to death)

God looks at the heart, or the reason behind the asking, the compassion the love for this person. He sees why we are asking, and acts according to that. In other words He sees we really want to help her (using His diving power), though we may even be asking for the wrong thing in that process. God looks solely at the motivation of why you are asking, and if the intentions are pure you can ask anything.

As for sharing it with other believers, Overall, yes this sharing is very powerful spiritually, though selective sharing may be in order, depending on where that person is in their faith.

There are certain practicalities in a utilitarian worldview that I draw upon for my own morality. Sometimes it would be a net benefit for someone to die, and I think it would be okay to curse such a person in such circumstances. Like to wish death on a horrible dictator who is starving his country and killing vocal opposition to his rule? That’s perfectly fine with me. Although you may be harming yourself if you feel guilty for wishing harm on another person, that’s not anyone else’s business as long as you don’t externalize the harm you cause yourself.

Of course, there’s a difference between wishing evil on an evil person, picking up a shotgun and killing that person, or inciting others to pick up their shotguns and kill that person. And as I’m an atheist, to me prayers and curses are just private words and intent that have no effect on anything, anywhere, anyway. I don’t lump private words into the same category as public words or actions.

I’m pretty sure the Talmud mentions praying for God to “take pity” or “have mercy” on someone a few times. I’d have to go look up the specifics.

(On a similar note, there’s a story in the Talmud about when Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi was dying. All his rabbi friends were sitting around praying non-stop. His wise maid, who’s the herioine of a few previous stories, realizes that Rebbi is in great pain. So she takes a vase, and climbs the roof, and throws it down. The gathered rabbis are distracted by the noise, and during the pause in their praying Rebbi dies).

I may have to come back to you on this- there’s probably a few relevant articles I could find and link to.

Me, too. I find praying for death alone a bit icky, as honestly, I think it shows a lack of faith that God could handle it another way.

I have prayed that God would either heal me or kill me before, and I’m sure I would do the same thing for anyone else who was close enough to me to feel grief over. Because that’s what that type of prayer is–crying out in agony. It’s not the type of prayer you use in a prayer circle.

I have, before. I don’t think it’s wrong to ask God to end someone’s suffering, however He chooses to do it.