Euthanasia is defined as a practice of deliberately ending a life to relieve pain and suffering. It is a medical practice wherein the concerned patient’s life is deliberately ended either actively or passively. After a prolonged observation when the patient stops to respond to the treatment, it is wise to bestow a decent end to a painful life. Earlier, euthanasia was considered to be a crime as it was considered to be an act of immorality and murder. Recently, through the case of Aruna Shanbaug, the issue of euthanasia has become a matter of great concern.
Rohini Shukla in her paper titled “Passive Euthanasia in India: A Critique” discussed about morally permissible methods of implementing euthanasia, given that the patient is certain to die a slow and painful death because of her/his irreversible medical condition In case of passive euthanasia, doctors are seen as agents moral integrity and technical expertise to decide as to how the life of such patients is to be terminated. In such cases, the suffering becomes more important than the preservation of life. However, this is possible only when the patient can respond to the certain methods of cure. In 2011, the Supreme Court denied passing the law regarding the deliberate termination of such suffering patients. This further increased the suffering of such patients who lived artificially through the medical support system and had no cognitive ability. Recently, the court has passed the law regarding passive euthanasia. However, the question regarding death with dignity still prevails. The answer is analysed by Rohini Shukla wherein she discussed that ‘one’s decision to opt for euthanasia is not completely based on the present experience of pain; it is made in anticipation of a miserable death. The verdict does the to acknowledge the value of legalising euthanasia to give patients who are chronically ill and older patients, a who fear to slip into a state in which they would be unable to communicate the kind of death they desire, the security of dying with dignity. Euthanasia allows patients to gain control over the way death occurs when medical conditions pose a real threat to their future well-being. Passive euthanasia, however, owing to its consequences for the patient, fails to confer such control.’
For a long time, euthanasia which is an act of mercy killing has been thought to be a taboo. The deliberate hastening of one’s death was considered to be going against the natural flow of Nature. Just as life is spontaneous, the arrival of death should also be natural. However, when the organic body fails to respond to treatments, the deliberate ending of it is an act of bestowing release to such suffering souls. Through euthanasia, be it a passive one or an active one, is an attempt to lessen the pain of such patients. The former comprises the practices of withholding measures such as artificial ventilation, dialysis, and antibiotics and so on while in the latter case; medicines are given to aggravating the pace of death. However, till the time passive euthanasia is implemented, the patient has already had her/his share of suffering without any relief. While in active euthanasia, the will of the patient is given consideration. Dr Arshad Taqi, in his paper titled, ‘Euthanasia- is it really a bad idea?’ talks about the dilemma of implementing of termination of life through medical means. Religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam prohibit taking one’s life. However, the introduction of artificial ventilation has redefined the concept of death. Mechanical ventilation has enabled patients to live without the ability to breathe; this would include brain stem, dead patients. Death has got an altogether meaning due to the advancement of technology. Due to high tech machines, patients can be kept alive for a long time. However, on a humanitarian level, it is an attempt to delay the natural process of death. Indeed, medical science has improved the longevity and standards of living; but, in extreme cases, this is done at the cost of one’s will to live. Death has become a process rather than a moment. The cost of treating these conditions, financial and psychological, is highly taxing for the patient and the family.
The patients have the right to be informed about the extent and severity of illness and probable life expectancy as they are the best judges of their pain and suffering. The process of prolonged death in itself constitutes the act of keeping a patient in pain. Passive euthanasia might seem to be an attempt to release a patient from the clutches of pain; it does so when nothing is left inside the respective body.
Atul Gawande in his seminal work, ‘Being Mortal- Medicine and what matters in the end’ states that medicine has improved longevity but it also has its own repercussions. In Gawande's view, “Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul.” The central issue with which he deals with is that being honest and an expert doctor is difficult and emotionally charging, and they don't want to dismantle hope and hence continually use terms like ‘regression’ and ‘response,’ which are technically correct but don't address the fundamental reality of the illness.
Euthanasia is a fundamental of reality which must not be distanced from the patients. The judgement in favour of passive euthanasia might be a milestone in the medical field; it does not bring any substantial improvement in the condition of the terminally ill patients. There is a need to think about ways through which the patient is given an agency to inform the doctors about her/his will when some cognition is left to analyse the respective plight. What matters, in the end, is a dignified death.
Agnes, F. Should euthanasia be allowed? (2018, January 26). The Hindu. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/should-euthanasia-be-allowed/article22524514.ece
Gawande, A. (2014). Being Mortal: Medicine and what matters in the end. Metropolitan Books, New York.
Shukla, R. (2016). Passive euthanasia in India: a critique. Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, 1 (1). doi: 10.20529/IJME.2016.008.
Taqi, A. (2012). Euthanasia- is it a really bad idea? Anaesthesia, Pain & Intensive Care,16(3). Retrieved from http://www.apicareonline.com/editorial-view-euthanasia-is-it-really-a-bad-idea/
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