A Buddhist Alternative Solution
Shunned off by families and friends AIDS sufferers turn to the temples as the last resort. After all, the rural poor already know Buddhist monks for their compassionate services. Out of compassion the monks, instead of turning their backs on these sufferers, try their best to find various ways and means to help them, for example, by turning the temples into a kind of hospices to accommodate them and by providing them with herbal treatment combined with religious practices. At one temple in their relationship with the patients the monk makes himself accessible to them nearly all times, seven days a week, and do not require any ceremony at all.
Such a warm and non-discriminating attitude is a typical expression of the Buddhist compassion with all the monks working with HIV/AIDS sufferers share in common. Although the temples are not hospices in the full sense (i.e. are not staffed with professional health care providers such as doctors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers) the monks' warm attitude and real concern for their welfare make the temple a sanctuary for AIDS sufferers.
The work of these monks is a translation of the Buddhist ethic of compassion into a meaningful action to alleviate the suffering of AIDS victims. This ethical ideal of compassion is the basis of all the most important bio-ethical principles, namely, respect for persons, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice. The bioethical principles of beneficence/non-maleficence are prima-facie duties, which are morally binding. The Buddhist compassion goes beyond duty or beyond the moral rule of beneficence. In their untiring efforts to help AIDS patients the compassionate monks are doing more out of compassion. "I am very tired," says one of these monks, "and my health is in deterioration. At times while treating patients I have to rush to my lodging to throw up because of over-work and exhaustion". "But I have great sympathy for these sufferers who have no other place to go. Of course, I treat them free of charge. I do not want them to feel obligated to give something back to the temple in return. But some relatives like to donate some money to the temple. This enables me to buy more herbs from villagers and to help more patients. The temple has very limited space. I like to advise people to take the medicine home and to come back only if there is no improvement. Apart from treatment I encourage all patients to have hope instead of despair, otherwise their conditions will become worse. It is not important for me at all to know how they got AIDS and whether they are good people or not. All I know is that they are in great suffering, and I am very glad to be helpful to them".
The translation of the Buddhist compassion into action to alleviate the suffering of AIDS victims may be regarded as a Thai Buddhist alterative solution to the bioethical issues related to HIV/AIDS epidemic. This Buddhist ethical ideal is inclusive of those basic bioethical principles. Due to their compassion the monks never ostracize HIV/AIDS inflicted people (respect for persons) and treat them equally (justice) with love and care (beneficence) helping them to have meaningful lives to the final days (non- maleficence) and to let go off lives peacefully.
HIV/AIDS epidemic is still a hard fact in our society. Our concern with it through the organization of conferences /workshops to debate/discuss medico-moral questions related to this epidemic is itself an act of compassion. The reflection on these issues is important. It may provide moral guidance in dealing with the pandemic. However, genuine compassion, as demonstrated by the monks, means compassionate services to suffering humanity. When divorced from action ethical ideals such as compassion is nothing.