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Euthanasia special: Do I have a right to die?

Kinjalk Pancholi Last Modified Saturday, 10 March 2018 (15:02 IST)
Commenting on extraordinary situations which prevail outside the realm of regular ordinary life of ours and most likely to be experienced by few poses a formidable challenge.No matter how empathetic I might be, I could never put myself in the shoes of a terminally ill patient experiencing excruciating pain. Also, life till now has been kind enough not to let me be a witness of the same with a loved one.

So then how do I fathom the desire to die?Everyone desires to lead a healthy and prosperous life, enamoured by the beauty and joy of life, blithely unconcerned about the universal truth that one day the music would stop. May be the old grapple more with it and often makes peace with this eventuality.

Crudely, if can be classified as physical/bodily pain and mental/emotional pain, I would say I have experienced only the latter, which once for a brief moment made me feel worthless about life.Most people bounce off from such painful moment as the zest for life rekindles either on its own or enthused by assistance of others.

Can we say the same for unending physical pain? At which point the body gives up, a person’s spirit is broken and he no longer wishes to live? Unlike mental suffering which to a greater extent can be alleviated we can’t do much after a point when medical condition deteriorates?
Person’s capacity to bear sufferings vary but sooner or later every one reaches an inflexion point. The same capacity is put to test in an interrogation. 

The question of is further made complex when the person himself is in a vegetative state and unable to take his decision. A distinction referred as voluntary vs Involuntary Euthanasia.

Similarly active euthanasia, which denotes administration of a lethal drug to a patient, is illegal but passive euthanasia, which denotes withdrawal of life support systems of a terminally ill patient and letting him die in natural course, is allowed in many countries.

Today’s judgment of Supreme Court reiterated its position as expressed in the landmark case, which had allowed passive euthanasia under exceptional cases monitored by high courts as it had opined an individual has a “right to die with dignity.”

But it also recognized the concept of living wills which is a written document allowing a patient to give instructions in advance about the medical treatment to be administered when he/she is terminally ill or no longer able to express informed consent, including withdrawing life support if a medical board declares that all lifesaving medical options have been exhausted .The government rightly argued in my view, the provision of Living will has the propensity of being misused.

The moral complexities involved with the issue of Euthanasia merits a larger public debate and Supreme Court rightly directed the legislature to come up with a much needed law on the same.When argued from a strict liberal perspective which champions individual rights. Right to life would encompass a right to die as well. As I am the master of my body, I have the right to choose what happens to it.

This leads us to an unresolved paradox – Attempt to suicide which is a wilful termination of one’s life taken voluntarily is a punishable offense under section 309 of IPC but a person may consent beforehand to be administered passive euthanasia if in future he becomes terminally ill and cannot take decision on his own.It has been argued to repeal section 309 as someone attempting suicide requires consultation rather than punishment.

The moral complexity of Euthanasia seems to me an unintended consequence of medical advancement. If we think of it, now we do have the technology to prolong the existence of an individual, albeit painful, for a certain period. Duration of which would vary from case to case basis.

In other words, we may put it as yet another attempt by man to wrest with nature. is natural, an eventuality to be faced sooner or later. Should we fight against it?Or isn’t it what we as humans attempting to do since our inception?  Attempting to game the nature? Does it not define us as humans?

So, if we are expected to empathize with the gruesome suffering of a terminally ill patient and facilitate his early death through passive euthanasia, we are going against the basic human spirit of contesting with nature.If an individual is denied a right to extinguish his life, it seems untenable to give such right to someone to make the choice for other.

As a society it is incumbent on our part to administer best possible medical treatment to every terminally ill patient.  We have examples of patients coming out of coma after more than two decades; it is better or rather more humane to lean towards supporting life rather than extinguishing it.

Although each case would be medically of varying complexity and I feel it would be imprudent to give the right of denying life to medical practitioners however learned they might be. The possibility of its misuse in a country like India outweighs its benefits.

This leads us to another pertinent question – if an individual is denied the right to die, can the state enjoy such right over a person?I think one cannot argue for passive euthanasia and at the same time favour abolishing capital punishment. To be human is to support life. A humanely state would do the same.
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