Gamble of a Ticking Time Bomb: Euthanasia

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By M.C. Linthoingambee

Our lives can be described as an open path for we cannot predict the future turn of events. When we have to let go of someone unwillingly only for the best of that person, we also bury a part of ourselves with them. Euthanasia is an uncommon usage among all others but it is the last resort for those lives determined by a ticking time clock. In case you are wondering what it is, the Oxford dictionaries define it as “the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma”. But in general articulation, Euthanasia has been circulated to mean “mercy killing”. Its definition still plays a controversial part as it is viewed differently in all the countries. For e.g: it is understood to mean the “termination of life by a doctor at the request of the patient” in the Netherlands. As per its viability, there are different laws for Euthanasia in all the countries so as to state that although it may be legal for some countries it may be considered illegal or a given hindrance to some other countries.

Can we expect to see a law legalizing the Right to die in our country? Should it be made Legal? Can we expect to see it as a Fundamental Right in the near future? This agenda still stands for open debate on various footings but for now let us contend ourselves on what we already know. There are no recognizable laws and the precedents (the area of reference) are still low in numbers. India on the other hand, has chosen to accept Passive Euthanasia. “Passive euthanasia” is usually defined as withdrawing medical treatment with the deliberate intention of causing the patient’s death. This form of euthanasia is different from “active” euthanasia, or simply euthanasia, where the death is caused by the use of lethal substances.1

Now, the questions arises on whether ending a life unnaturally upholds the principle of being moral or not. The creation of rights of an individual takes place with the birth of the individual and such rights extinguish with the death of the individual. Do we have a legal right to determine our say in exactly how long must we live? March 7, 2011 was one of those days when the entire watched on while a woman’s life hung by the thread of a certain decision. Aruna Shanbaug’s  case was filed by a social activist Pinky Virani on behalf of Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug, a comatose victim of sexual assault who has been in persistent vegetative state for the past 37 years at Mumbai’s KEM Hospital. After allowing due examination by a certified medical panel, the court turned down the mercy killing petition. However in its landmark judgment, it allowed passive euthanasia in India.  The court laid out guidelines for passive euthanasia.

1.     A decision has to be taken to discontinue life support either by the parents or the spouse or other close relatives, or in the absence of any of them: such a decision can be taken even by a person or a body of persons acting as a next friend. It can also be taken by the doctors attending the patient. However, the decision should be taken bona fide in the best interest of the patient.

2.     Even if a decision is taken by the near relatives or doctors or next friend to withdraw life support, such a decision requires approval from the High Court concerned.

3.     When such an application is filed the Chief Justice of the High Court should forthwith constitute a Bench of at least two Judges who should decide to grant approval or not. A committee of three reputed doctors to be nominated by the Bench, who will give report regarding the condition of the patient. Before giving the verdict a notice regarding the report should be given to the close relatives and the State. After hearing the parties, the High Court can give its verdict.

According to these guidelines, passive euthanasia involves the withdrawing of treatment or food that would allow the patient to live. The court also clarified that until Parliament enacts a law, its judgment on active and passive euthanasia will be in force.

While on the International front, efforts have been made and ongoing to change the versatility of the various government policies still intact on euthanasia in the 21st century although it has been met only with a viable count of success. Different policies surrounding its probe, are in the process and outreach of development by various organizations, NGOs, etc and amongst them are also the highly acclaimed medical associations and the associations of those highly familiar with the knowledge of law. As of 2002, euthanasia is only legal in the three Benelux countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont and Montana.

(M.C. Linthoingambee is an undergraduate pursuing B.Com. LL.B(H). An avid blogger, poet, a seasonal artist and a foodie, she is also a life member to the Indian Society of the Red Cross.)

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