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Monday, March 14, 2011

Euthanasia - A Pandora's Box We Shouldn't Have Opened


Can you kill someone in India if you feel like? Hell no. Ok – Can you kill yourself if you are that frustrated? Well certainly you can but it is termed illegal. So that’s pretty much rests the case on how and to what extent life is considered pious and valuable on the eyes of our constitution. So in nutshell – our constitution doesn’t allow you to kill anyone, including yourself. If the guidelines which at least from the looks of it sounds so concrete then from where the debate on Aruna Shanbaug’s mercy killing came into picture? If we go by the books then we are not allowed to kill anyone – be it merciful or revengeful. So why we are so eager to kill a certain Aruna and if that was not enough we even dragged our request at the door steps of the Apex court for their intervention. We must have gone crazy one might wonder. Even if to some extent we have, but it is not entirely that.

Now look at Aruna Shanbaug – A lady who is in a vegetative state for the better part of the last four decades, barely able to lift her eyelids on her own, I am told she still loves Konkani Machhi curry (which sounds like a nonsense to me) and last but not the least she at times responds by some short of gesture when her name is called. To make her life more miserable (if it hasn’t already crossed all miserable milestones) there are no immediate relatives to stand by her. The nurses of the KEM hospital are what many consider as the family that Aruna ever had. So now sit and ponder – does anyone deserves such life? Aren’t we be doing a great favor to her if we let her free from this miserable life and have a peaceful and dignified exit? Now one can say; it is easier to talk like an intellectual when none of your close relatives are the point of discussion. True – many of those who are in support of ending the misery of Aruna would run away from the answering dais if they are asked what would have been their opinion if it is their close ones instead of Aruna. Certainly a situation we don’t even want to imagine, let alone being brave enough to be judgmental. Then why such hypocrisy in case of Aruna? Only because she doesn’t have anyone as a relative to stand by her that we got the liberty to decide the best for her? Are we as a nation turned so immoral and unsympathetic towards someone’s misery? Or are we in fact doing a great service towards Aruna by our collective decision? Even if the answers to earlier questions are farfetched and circumstantial, there is one person who can answer the last question with some authority – that is Aruna herself. But looking at Aruna, I doubt if we would get the answer ever.

I am not trying to be unsympathetic, immoral or sentimental but plain practical. Forget about Aruna and just take yourself to her position and answer – would you have wished to live another day with your monumental misery or wanted to die peacefully the next second? If the person is not too greedy, then majority would choose the later as the first option. Hope I am not misinterpreted, but look at the economics attached behind such miserable life. Take the case of Priyaranjan Dashmunsi – a person who is in a complete vegetative state since 2008. Chartered flights are booked every now-and-then and the gentleman is airlifted to different corners of the globe for his treatment. I pray to God that Mr.Dashmunsi does recover from this situation which looks hopelessly impossible. I would like to take a pause and want to ask – who is paying for his treatment (hope I’m not misinterpreted)? Being an ex-politician, the tax payers are paying for this. When 60% of our country is deprived from basic healthcare facilities this investment of money on Mr.Dashmunsi is anything but wastage. I know in the matter of life and death, economics and money shouldn’t be brought in. But before I can explain further I want you guys to remember the public help notices that comes in newspapers every now and then to save the little child who is dying to some disease due to lack of fund. Now answer – given a chance, whom you would prefer the money to go? Towards a vegetative person or the small child who is yet to see the world? I think the answer of yours’ would settle the argument. So in the larger canvas, by forcing an individual to suffer in such precarious conditions we might not be doing a great service to the person himself/herself.

One thing that I hate most in keeping someone alive by external support system is the affinity of us to play God. In natural circumstances the person would have been dead long back hadn’t he/she been put on ventilators or any other gadgets that only doctors can pronounce. But we with our over inflated ego make sure we defy God and make our own rules. More than that we feel the importance of social fabrics attached in keeping alive your closed ones (come what may). No one would agree to take the life support of his father, how precarious his condition may be. The dual feeling of hunting self-conscience and the social stigma of – ‘Kyesa beta hai. Apne baap ko marne keliye chor diya ’ forces the son to stand helplessly and watch his father’s misery. I was having a talk with a gentleman the other day. He still has a heavy heart on thinking about that day when he was left with no option but to allow his father a dignified exit. As per him, it was going beyond his tolerating limit to see his father’s misery on daily basis. He just couldn’t stand the pain his father was going through, whom he loves so much. He assured me that the decision of his was not because he didn’t want to take the responsibility further but he just couldn’t see his father’s misery anymore. I’m not sure if he did the right thing or not but for sure opened a new window for debate.

Now the curious case of Aruna Shanbaug opened new avenues for discussion. While out rightly rejecting the option of Active-Euthanasia, the court did allowed the practice of Passive-Euthanasia; only if the close relatives of the sufferer ask for it. Now this brings me to ask – is it the fault of Aruna that she doesn’t have any close relatives around; hence she has to continue with her misery? If that so then this judgment of our Apex court is as useless (with all respect) as Piyush Chawla for team India. Can’t the court come up with some short of framework? A living will kind of thing where including his properties a person can decide what should be meted to him/her if such situation arises? I know how tough it is to work with a living will, but we can certainly try this till we come up with a better way of handling such situations. Our doctors can be handy in this. For critical diseases the treating doctor can very well have an open talk with the patient and get his consent on the next course of action, if things go utterly hopeless.

Having said that, I want to admit – we are no one to decide if the person should live another day or not. Let at times the nature take the driver’s seat and we being the simple commuters (not even backseat drivers). Aruna Shanbaug is for sure a disturbing case. I am confident she is not the only one who is suffering as there would be many unreported Aruna Shanbaugs dumped as vegetables on their beds and continue to live with their misery. We might not be able to do justice to each and every one of them. So why show our heroics by just picking one case out of the stack? This message is solely for Pinky Anand – lets flow with the tides of the nature and refrain ourselves from opening a Pandora’s Box.

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