The Resident Editor of Times of India, Pune Edition, wrote in his weekly feature dated 01-08-2006:
“If I knew well what was in store for him in the next three vegetative years, I might have tried to procure a lethal shot of morphine, even if it meant patricide. But I resorted to hope, which is often not logical even if necessary. A really foolish thing to resort to as it turned out. In advanced cases of cancer, AIDS, or neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, there is no turning back. And the sooner the patient gives up the ghost the better for him and those who love him”.
In that real story, the writer was referring to the death of his father: In the write up, he had brought out the significance and relevance of euthanasia in extreme circumstances where a patient and the people connected with the patient undergo agonies and inconveniences which have no possible solution other than terminating the life of the person concerned.
Euthanasia is intentional killing of a fellow human being purportedly by way of mercy: Euthanasia is therefore called ‘mercy killing’, as well. The word Euthanasia has its origin in Greek word, EU THANATOS which means GOOD DEATH. It shows that euthanasia is good death; euthanasia is for the good of the person who is killed and for the good of persons involved in the killing.
Generally Euthanasia is resorted to end the life of terminally ill patients for whom there is no scope for survival but who continues to live life in vegetative condition. The avowed object of euthanasia, the mercy killing, is to save a patient from unbearable pains and agonies and to relieve the relatives, friends and the medical fraternity of their inconveniences and worries. For the enthusiasts of euthanasia, prolongation of life of a terminally sick person in whose case there is no scope for survival, is meaningless.
Depending upon its application and the situation it entails, euthanasia can be divided into three categories: One is Passive Euthanasia and the other two are Active Euthanasia and Involuntary Euthanasia.
Passive Euthanasia is carried out by hastening natural death of the sick person whose illness is in an advanced stage where death is certain. This is done by withdrawing the life supporting systems like medication, food and water and in rare cases even the respirator.
Active Euthanasia is a sort of ‘Assisted Suicide’ where the suffering person is assisted by providing information and means of suicide such as drugs, carbon monoxide gas et al so that the person might terminate life without further interference of any one else in the act of the self suicide. Active Euthanasia is commonly referred to as ‘voluntary passive euthanasia'(VPE) where the person concerned would still be conscious of what is up to.
Involuntary Euthanasia is in fact active euthanasia except for the situation where it is necessitated. For example, in the case of a new born child survival of which is almost impossible due to bio-chemical factors or serious infections or physical deformity or for want of life sustaining body parts, attending doctors assist the killing of the infant. In other cases involuntary euthanasia is carried out in persons who suffer from mental retardation like Alzheimer’s disease or Coma.
Choice of euthanasia as a means to end the life of a living person has been a topic of diverse opinions: A section of enlightened people who support euthanasia explain that a patient should not be denied of the right to die. For such patients every passing moment would be horrendous. Besides, keeping the patient alive would increase the bother and anxieties of the patient’s relatives and well wishers especially when the medical profession remains clueless as to how long the wait would have to continue. In the eyes of the enthusiasts, euthanasia, whether passive or active, is not immoral but it heightens the values of humanity.
People who oppose euthanasia have many reasons to cite: They argue that euthanasia is against religious tenets; they say, euthanasia is calculated murder; euthanasia denies right to live; euthanasia helps vested interests to take the custody of the properties owned by the patient. They also argue that promoting euthanasia tends to increase criminality among the discontented lot in the society.
Whatever are the arguments, either in favour or against, one should have to recognize that passive euthanasia is a favorable option where a patient is terminally ill and where there is no scope for survival of the patient. But it has to be executed under strict regulations and flawless conditions.
The Supreme Court of India by its judgment in the month of March 2011 has legalized passive euthanasia and laid down necessary guidelines therefor. According to the Judgment, a bona fide decision to withdraw life support to the patient has to be taken, first. The decision has to be taken by the parents or the spouse or close relatives of the patient. In the absence of either of them, the decision may be taken by a person or body of persons acting as friend. A decision may also be taken by the attending medical Doctor in the best interest of the patient. The decision so taken has got to be approved by the concerned High Court for which a petition has to be filed before the Court. Thereupon, the Chief Justice of the High Court constitutes a bench of Judges to decide whether to grant or to reject permission for mercy killing. This is done on the basis of a report by reputed doctors nominated for the purpose. Before passing the verdict, the Court gives notices to the State and to the close relatives regarding the report. The High Court then proceeds with the hearing of all the parties and gives its verdict.
Active Euthanasia is illegal in almost all the Countries. In India, Passive Euthanasia is legal along with several other Countries like Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, US states of Washington and Oregon, Briton and Canada.
Medical Science is advancing in heaps and bounds. Incurable illnesses of today may find remedies, tomorrow: But waiting for the uncertain tomorrow would only augment the miseries of the patient and miseries for the dear and the near ones of the patient. Better to accept what is found good for the day rather than waiting for the good in uncertain tomorrows. Let passive euthanasia under strict regulations be yet another noble cause for upholding the virtues of humanism.