Yesterday while watching a news channel there was a debate going on Euthanasia. Euthanasia which means ‘good death’ in Greek is an intentional ending of life to get relieved from pain and sufferings. Euthanasia is broadly classified as voluntary and involuntary euthanasia.

Voluntary Euthanasia is when the patient requests that action be taken to end his life or life saving treatment be stopped with full knowledge that this will lead to death.

Involuntary Euthanasia is when the patient’s life is ended without patient’s knowledge or against patient’s will. Involuntary Euthanasia is treated as crime in all countries.

Voluntary and Involuntary Euthanasia is further divided into active and passive euthanasia.

Active Euthanasia is the ending of life by the deliberate administration of drugs and Passive Euthanasia is ending of life by means of the withdrawal of life support to patients in a permanent vegetative state.

In India Passive Euthanasia became legal by Supreme Court Ruling dated 7 March 2011. The ruling defined the passive euthanasia as –

‘Causing the death of a person, who is in permanent vegetative state with no chance of recovery, by withdrawing artificial life-support is only an ‘omission (of support to life)’ and not an ‘act of killing’ – The Supreme court of India.

This ruling came as result of petition filed by Pinki Virani a national award winning writer, journalist and social activist in Aruna Shanbaug Case

Aruna Shanbaug case

Aruna Shanbaug was a nurse who was working with KEM Hospital, Mumbai.  On 27 November 1973 Sohanlal Walmiki, a sweeper working in the same hospital assaulted and sodomized her in a basement room of the hospital. During the attack she was strangled with a chain. Due to strangulation the oxygen supply to her brain was cutoff resulting in brain and cervical cord injury. Since then she has been in a persistent vegetative state in the same hospital

On behalf of Aruna, Pinki Virani, filed a petition in the Supreme Court arguing that the “continued existence of Aruna is in violation of her right to live in dignity”. The Supreme Court made its decision on 7 March 2011.  The court rejected the plea to discontinue Aruna’s life support but issued a set of broad guidelines legalizing passive euthanasia in India. The Supreme Court’s decision to reject the discontinuation of Aruna’s life support was based on the fact that the hospital staff who treat and take care of her did not support euthanizing her.

My Take

There are people who are in favor of this practice and there is a segment of people who are against this practice. I agree that miracles have happened in the past and people have come out from coma or other ailments after a long period. I also agree that every individual has a right to live. But I believe purpose behind Euthanasia should be viewed from another angle also.

Two categories of ailments can be made to fall under the ambit of Euthanasia:

  1. One which puts the patient in vegetative state  and
  2. Incurable disease for which there is no cure available at present.

Considering the first scenario we need to look at various aspects before accepting the euthanasia request for such cases. The points which can be taken into consideration are:

  • For how long the person has been in this state?
  • Financial condition of the family (whether they can bear the medical expenses)
  • Probability of recovering from this state

For second scenario in certain cases the patient due to extreme nature of the pain can decide in haste that he should go for euthanasia. In such scenarios one needs to do counseling for him and even then if he is not willing to continue then with additional concurrence from its immediate family members euthanasia request can be sent.

In either scenario each case needs to be referred to a panel of eminent Indian doctors (formed by govt.) who needs to examine and give their recommendation. Then this case can be referred to some legal authority who takes the final decision.

Also proper guidelines need to be framed to prevent misuse of this law.

I hope national debate should happen on this topic to arrive at consensus so that it can be framed as a law.