Jeet Narayan of Uttar Pradesh in 2008 pleaded for euthanasia for his four sons: Durgesh, Sarvesh, Sushil and Brijesh, all aged between 13 and 22-years for they were crippled and paralyzed below the neck. Narayan wrote to the president of India, but his plea was rejected and his sons continue to live in their utterly hopeless and pitiful state. [Link]
On the other hand, in the US, Nancy Cruzan had a major car accident in 1983 which led her to go into a coma. She continued to be fed through a surgically-implanted gastrostomy tube. Nearly eight years after the accident, a court allowed the removal of her artificial feeding system so she could die a natural death. Within two hours after the ruling, Cruzan’s doctor removed the tube and she died, thus ending her struggle.
I ask you which of these two cases ended up with a better fate? The one who lives and suffers till date, or the one who ends the fruitless suffering and struggle to exist? Presenting this question before you, I bring up the question of whether or not euthanasia should be legalized in India.
We do not have the right to take away someone’s life by killing them, but we also do not have the right to make someone suffer ceaselessly and without cure or cause. If a person has the right to live their life on their own terms, than they must also have the right to end their life in a dignified way. Euthanasia, which is the practice of ‘intentionally ending a life in order to remove their pain and suffering’ cannot be dismissed altogether in circumstances like those I’ve previously mentioned along with the famous case of Aruna Shanbaug who has been on life support for the past 37-years now.
Her plea for euthanasia was rejected, but her case gained momentum and soon brought into limelight the issue of euthanasia. Passive euthanasia has been made legal in India since the 8th of March, 2011. This term used by the Supreme Court in the verdict on Aruna Deshbaug is the fully intentional withdrawal of medical relief of a terminally ill patient in order to hasten the end of their cureless pain and suffering. It becomes important here to understand the term ‘terminal illness.’ A medical term greatly recognized in the 20th century, it is used in order to describe a patient suffering from a disease that is incurable and will naturally result in the death of the patient within a short while, the bracket of 6 months as maximum life expectancy being arbitrary here. So a person suffering from a slow and steady disease like AIDS may not be considered terminally ill.
Active euthanasia, which is the acceleration of death by using drugs and injecting is presently illegal in India. Here I emphasize the fact that we cannot bluntly imply that the victim is being killed or murdered. Rather he/she is being relieved of their pain which, most importantly, is unending or has no cure in their particular situation. This is of prime importance in order to understand my argument which goes in favor of euthanasia.
Once we think of anything in terms of life and death, our instant reaction will be to support life; to live and to let live. But we must focus on the need of the person, of the situation and understand the complexity of the issue before having an emotional outburst of vehement protest while discussing this controversial topic.
Those who condemn euthanasia ( like Ezekiel Emmanuel) usually come up with narrow arguments, the most common being that it is morally wrong, that it can lead to problematic law and order situations, and also that alternatives such as effective pain relief are always available. I would like to mention as a counter- argument to these common points that the question of morality is already being dealt with since euthanasia must be approved of by the patient or his blood relatives in all circumstances. Also, there must be no sign of improvement in the person’s state anywhere in the future. For law and order, we can cite countries like the Netherlands and Belgium and states like Oregon in the U.S. where euthanasia has been made legal and where euthanasia is mostly unproblematic. A similar understanding can be reached to avoid trouble and strict laws can be ensued in order to ensure that active euthanasia is not misused in India.
I conclude by stating that every one of us deserves a dignified death, and a terminally ill patient’s unending suffering must not be seen as a natural phenomenon as there is nothing natural about artificial respirators and pills and these must never become a way of life. Rather withdrawing assistance which simply prolongs a difficult and cureless state of being is what is natural and humane. In these circumstances we must let nature take its course instead of sabotaging her and overpowering her in situations which we cannot and must not try to control.
[Views expressed herein are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent Jamia Journal’s editorial policy.]