Hindu Attitudes about Suicide
Suicide is an act forbidden by most major religions. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), a doctor of the Catholic Church, condemned suicide as “self-murder.” Is there a Hindu doctrine pertaining to suicide? What do Hindus think about suicide or critical questions regarding medical and reproductive ethics?
Hinduism does not approve of suicide, per se. Human life, according to Hindu beliefs, is very precious and is attained only after many rebirths, enabling an individual to leap to a higher plane of existence.
According to Hindu beliefs, if a person commits suicide, he goes neither to hell nor heaven, but remains in the Earth's consciousness as a bad spirit and wanders aimlessly till he completes his actual and allotted lifetime. In essence, suicide puts an individual's spiritual clock in reverse. Hindu scriptures therefore aptly describe it as murder of self (atmahatya).
Suicide has been condemned by Hindu scripture because it abruptly causes karma to take an unexpected turn. There are, however, some exceptions to the prohibition on suicide. Terminal diseases or great disabilities — or even religious self-willed deaths through fasting (prayopavesha) — are permitted.
Prayopavesha is not regarded as suicide because it is natural and nonviolent, and only for spiritually advanced people under specified circumstances. The person making such a decision declares it publicly, which allows for community regulation and distinguishes the act from suicide performed in traumatic emotional states of anguish and despair.
Ancient lawgivers cite various stipulations for allowing suicide:
The inability to perform normal bodily purifications
Death appears imminent or the condition is so bad that life's pleasures are nil
The action must be done under community regulations