Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Euthanasia or mercy killing is the act or practise of painlessly putting to death persons suffering from painful or incurable diseases. It is talked about in public; debated by philosophers. If God has given life then he, and only he, can take it. But if a person can never talk, never feel, never express and spends his life like a vegetable, then is his life worth sustaining?

There is another aspect. It may lead to involuntary Euthanasia or manipulating people into asking for suicide or actually killing them without their permission if they are a burden. We have precedents, in this century itself- Nazi Holocaust. Non-Germans were viewed as expendable. It did not take long to transform the war crimes into an act of compassion.

There is no specific provision for euthanasia in most of the legal systems. In most of the legal systems Euthanasia is treated as suicide or murder.1 Holland is a country where the doctors, courts and the general public more openly debate it than anywhere else. According to a sample survey, the majority there supports legal right to die of course after strictly complying with some unwritten rules. The law there also stands, but is selectively enforced. In India an attempt to commit suicide is punishable. Of course, if one is successful in his attempt then he can’t be punished. You don’t convict a dead man. But any one who abets suicide is liable to be punished. Murder is of course punishable.
In England, a voluntary Euthanasia legalisation society was formed in 1935. But a bill introduced by the society was defeated in the House of Lords the next year and again in 1950.

This question is likely to attract further interest in the near future. The case of Nancy Cruzan has gone to the highest Courts in U.S.A. The Court is to decide whether the parents of Nancy Cruzan could ask the doctors to remove the tubes feeding her. She has been lies in a vegetative state for the last eight years in a hospital. Her medical expenses are being borne not by her parents but by the state that maintains the hospital. But the parents' claim that decision end Nancy’s life should rest with them based on intimate knowledge of Nancy’s views and preferences.2


Our Supreme Court too has dealt with the question, whether a person has the right to take his own life. In P Rathinam Vs Union of India, 1994(3) SCC 394 the court declared section 309 of Indian Penal Code providing punishment for the attempt to commit suicide to be ultravires of the constitution. In a later decision Gian Kaur Vs State of Punjab, 1994(3) SCC 394 it overruled its previous decision. It upheld the validity of section 309 of IPC. It left the question to the legislature to legislate.

But debates apart, I for one firmly believe that it is better to die than to live a helpless life. If I ever happen to be in such a situation, I hope my family members will take that decision- put me into eternal sleep. But I am no longer so sure.

People said whom I loved my dog more than any one else, he was suffering. On two earlier occasions when the Vet had advised me to put him to sleep, I had refused. And he recovered and was moving about. But this was the third time. He was old and blind. Then, broke his legs and had bleeding wounds. I could not bear to watch his sufferings. I had him; lenthally injected. Within seconds he went off to sleep- the eternal sleep. In any case he might have died may be within ten days. Now I Often go to the place where he was put to eternal sleep and ponder. Was my decision right? Could he be well again? After all on the two earlier occasions he did get well. That was despite the Vet’s opinion. I feel guilty. Still I know what I will do if I am in such a situation: without remorse, without guilt, I will put myself to eternal sleep. I am sure; in my rebirth it will be a stronger me. But I am not sure what others will do. They too have a conscience to keep.

1Since the writing of this article, the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory of Australia has enacted Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 providing that a medical practitioner may assist a terminally ill patient to end his life. This was later repealed.

2Since the writing of this article the American Supreme Court has by six to three dismissed the appeal and upheld the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court refusing to remove the tubes feeding her. Cruzan Vs Director, Mo. Health Dept. 111 LEd 2nd 224. A comment on this case and debate on the issue is available in form of an article Do we have a Right to Die in the Book Freedom's Law The Moral Reading of The American Constitution by Ronald Dworkin.

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