Saturday, June 17, 2006


So proud she was to die
It made us all ashamed
That what we cherished, so unknown
To her desire seemed.

So satisfied to go
Where none of us should be,
Immediately, that anguish stooped
Almost to jealousy.

Emily Dickinson.

Seven summers ago, in am attempt to elude boredom on a lazy afternoon, I remember, I came across a seemingly frivolous read called ‘Martin’. On the onset it looked deceptively innocent but its influence would change my perception of life, and death, later on.

It is a story of the travails of a mother (also the author, whose name I have consequently misplaced in my disorganized mind) in raising Martin, who suffer from cancer, but is immensely passionate about life. As the book progressed it became obvious that he would not make it. To ease his pain and anguish his mother seeks deliverance for her child by letting him go, they euthanate him.

This was my first encounter with the concept of euthanasia . My untrained mind was perplexed as to how a decision could be taken to terminate a human life and by his own mother at that. Being the circumstantial idealist that I am, it seemed imperative that all should have been done to keep Martin alive, even if it seemed abortive and futile.

We all have the right to decide the course of our lives and so also, some argue, of our demise. Faced with the prospect of being indefinitely comatose or relegated to an incorrigible vegetative state, many would choose to be relieved from their ephemeral compulsion of being alive. Here, one could argue that ‘to exist’ is distinctly incongruent to ‘being alive’ and would not be sufficient to constitute as life. As India moves a step closer to formally debate the validity of euthanasia and its relevance in today’s society, the apprehensions regarding its misuse could not have been more conspicuous.

As Indians we are very much aware of our mortality either through our scriptures or daily news. The concept of euthanasia (eu=good , thanates= death) is not alien to our culture as indicated in Bhishmapitahma’s insistence of icchamaran. Euthanasia was practised if a person could not perform his religious rituals due to old age or had been suffering from some incurable disease. Even the method to be adopted for dying was described; the person must burn himself in a pile of dried cow dung cakes or drown himself in the holy river. Jainism practised another kind of euthanasia called Santharo in which a person forsakes food and water and starves himself to death. Even today the practice is in vogue. Which are known concepts, if I may cite, refuting the categorial reasoning of certain circumspect individuals that we are not civilized enough as a society to incorporate such a sensitive choice. In India, where medical care is grossly undermined and overstretched, the logical paradigm to relinquish a bed for another who has a better chance of survival is appealing. Also, the pain and suffering caused to the patient himself and close ones, which would be magnified if complexed with economic constraints, can be pacified if not completely vanquished.

The emotional and spiritual strength required to decide the finality of a loved one’s life, as opposed to one’s own, is unimaginable. I wonder whether the person faced with this unfortunate decision can ever be fully convinced of the validity of it, however humane it may seem. Does the guilt ever cease, would there be a state of perpetual remorse bearing heavy on one’s soul? Also, can the judgment of another human be trusted; after all we pride ourselves in being fallible. A person who wishes to be euthanated can find reason in self-determination and choice, but what would be its effect on the psyche of a young child or an ailing father. Is it fair to escape?

The case of Dr. Kevorkian is enough to discourage any inclination towards euthanasia. The prospect of mal treatment is daunting; the avenues of manipulating this practice are significantly alarming. The emergence of hospices and palliative care as an alternative rehabilitate and provide proper care to people who are hopelessly challenged and running against time, is a boon to ease the sting of timed death. By the use of prescribed drugs, opiates included, the pain of living is relatively eased. But again, such facilities can be afforded only by the obscurely rich.

The basic premise of such a right cannot be generalized as it is an intensely private matter and it should be acknowledged in due light. The introduction of such a delicate right needs to be regulated, not by indifferent bureaucrats, but through varying levels of checks pertaining to the intentions behind such a request and which should be sanctioned by the highest court. The appalling loopholes in the highly criticised texas fultile care law are anything but exemplary. Also, I think alternate avenues should be explored in such an eventuality such as hospices, which are dedicated to make the transition easier. After all, we do take our transcendence very seriously.

( the link is an article published in The Hindu regarding the recent verdict by the Kerala high court on euthanasia)


jimmy said...

cool write-up, I didn't know about its prevalence in india...why do you blog so scarcely?...I am sure you have a lot more to say...

grace said...

i think that it is better to not let them suffer, those who are terminalyy ill. why make them go through so much, in hospices and as such, when they have had enough. The decision of accepting one's eventual fate should be an individual only, so euthanasia should be considered only if they have the individual's consent.
Like the DNR cases that are seen in the US.