Thursday, June 23, 2011

Everyone has a right to live. Should there also be a right to die?

The question cannot be answered directly with a yes or no as it is subjective to different cases. However, we can proceed to discuss it. To begin with, let us understand the concept of mercy killing or euthanasia. Derived from the Greek word "euthanatos", it stands for "good death"; which refers to the practice of ending a life in a painless manner. The term can be further classified into voluntary or involuntary euthanasia based on the consent of the person. Further, active euthanasia refers to death with legal injection and passive which means withdrawal of life support systems.

Let's now look at the history of mercy killing. In 1997, the state of Oregon (US), passed the "Death with Dignity" Act allowing patients to inject lethal injections themselves. And, in 2002 the Dutch Parliament became the first country to legalize euthanasia. However, euthanasia is still practised in countries depending on the circumstances leading to the request. In Columbia, doctors are not held responsible if, on request, they allow or practise euthanasia. In 2003, a 43 year old paralytic woman in the UK was granted "the right to die."

Here in India, euthanasia is illegal. Worse still, there is no debate about it nor is there any judicial exemption practised. However the new euthanasia case of Aruna Ramchandra, a rape victim, who has been in a vegetative state for the past 36 years, has been brought to the apex court for hearing. It is now time for India to open up euthanasia as a logical and reasonable solution in certain rare cases.

As far as ethics go, when life support systems used to lengthen the life span even in a hopeless case, isn't considered unethical, how does pulling the plug, when requested, become unethical and illegal?

24 year old Aruna Ramchandra used to work as a nurse in Mumbai's KEM hospital when she was strangulated with a dog chain and sodomized by a ward boy, leaving her dumb, blind and paralysed. While the rapist was let off with ONLY 7 years of imprisonment, the victim continues to live her life as a helpless vegetable.

Recently. Bollywood director Bhansali came out with the movie "Guzaarish" dealing with the sensitive subject of mercy killing. The film has paraplegic Ethan (played by Hrithik Roshan) who is rendered paralysed after an accident. While many who saw Guzaarish argued on the what and why of euthanasia, Ahmedabad based Ekta Raval, 20, knows exactly what the magician Ethan of Guzaarish feels about death. She has death staring in her face but nonetheless choose to live and live loud and live happy. Although she has had no control over her body below her neck for over the past 15 years thanks to the Guillain Barre Syndrome, she firmly believes that there's no point in meddling with God's pattern or his choice of a life for you.

Aruna's lawyer makes a strong point when he says, "Is not keeping a woman in persistent vegetative state by force feeding her for 36 years, violate her right to live with dignity, guaranteed by Article 21 - Right to Life of the Constitution?"

Summing up, while there are differing opinions about euthanasia, there are patients like Ekta, in contrast to Aruna who wishes to live her last days with full enthusiasm. Aruna on the other hand, happens to be an extreme case wherein euthanasia seems like the most feasible option. Although, legalizing euthanasia may not be the best idea as inheritance thirsty cold-blooded relatives can misuse the law as a weapon to conveniently cover-up murder. Finally, cases of euthanasia must be thoroughly investigated before being executed, even if the legalization were to take place.

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