The Supreme Court of India has ruled that it would be legal to withdraw life-support system to those in a permanently vegetative state. This ruling came in the judgement delivered by the court which turned down the petition seeking mercy killing of Aruna Shaunbagh, who has spent 37 years in a Mumbai hospital bed in a vegetative state.
While permitting the process, known as passive euthanasia, the court however held that active euthanasia, or actively ending a terminally ill person’s life by administering lethal injections or other means, would be illegal.
I find that a large majority of people have welcomed the judgement of the Supreme Court. I however disagree with the judgement – this is my season of disagreements with the court! In my opinion, the court has not only side-stepped the issue but has also dealt a body blow to the already suffering patients.
Passive Euthanasia Vs. Active Euthanasia
There are two types of euthanasia – active euthanasia and passive euthanasia.
In my opinion Passive Euthanasia is far worse than Active Euthanasia. If active euthanasia is murder, then passive euthanasia is the worst form of torture before murder.
Removing of life support systems is termed as passive euthanasia. Now what are life support systems? As per my understanding a life support system may supply air, water and / or food. A life support system may also help the patient deal with the body waste. So if a patient is not able to breathe on his own, he is put on a ventilator. Or if the patient can’t take in food or water on his own, then he is fed through tubes etc.
Removal of the life support systems will mean that you are authorising terminating the life of the patient by choking, starvation and or thirst.
In what way is this not murder?
Whom will the courts give more stringent punishment – a person who kills another by shooting him at point blank range in the head, or a person who tortures his victim and derives sadistic pleasure in his suffering which eventually results in the victim’s death?
Now one might argue that the patient in such a state is not feeling any pain and will not know when the end comes. If that be the case, then why euthanasia? If the patient is not suffering, then what is the good reason to ask for a “good killing?”
Another argument that I hear on Euthanasia is on the lines of “the quality of life” or “living with dignity.”
How do we define “quality of life” or “living with dignity”? And more importantly how can we decide if “another” person is living a dignified life. Whose benchmark are we going to use? Our or the patient’s? But patient’s benchmark we don’t know. So in effect we are imposing our benchmark on the patient.
We cannot eat, drink, and breathe on behalf of another person, however close he may be to us. So if we can’t do such basic things on behalf on another, how can we decide on behalf of another whether he should live or not?
It can also be argued that a person in a permanent vegetative state is “dependent” on others for most of his bodily and every day functions. And hence the person in such a state is not living with dignity. But so does a new born child.
A human child cannot do anything on his own and needs the constant attention of his parents for food, water and disposal of body waste. So does it mean that the child is not leading a life of dignity? Do we demand euthanasia for new born babies?
No, because the difference between an infant and a patient in vegetative state is the “higher hope” that one day the child will grow up to do things on his own. That the child will be able to “free us” of the caring that we need to give, and also that the child will “free us” of the financial investment that we have to make in bringing up.
In case of a patient in permanent vegetative state such hopes are non-existent. The demand therefore for euthanasia for such a patient is to save “ourselves” of the “emotional drain” and “financial loss”.
- If a patient is in a vegetative state and cannot take decision on his own, then there should be NO euthanasia – passive or active. At least the state and the judiciary must not endorse passive euthanasia – though it frequently happens on the sly because of the financial reasons as mentioned above.
- If the patient is not in a vegetative state and is fully capable of deciding on his own, then in my opinion he has to decide what he has to do with his life. And that is a topic of another day’s discussion!
It is now your turn to express your views, agreements, disagreements…
I await your comments.