Euthanasia: A Right to Mercy Killing or a Dignified Death?

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You have been pronounced a vegetable, incapable of any improvement, slowly deteriorating. What would you choose- a still, barely there life or a dignified death? Isn’t euthanasia or mercy killing more kinder?

You must be wondering why am I talking about euthanasia or mercy killing today. I had been talking to a very dear close loved one regarding this some days ago. Her thoughts forced me to brood and muse upon these dark alleyways of life and death.

And you know what?

A part of me died some days ago. I mean it. The loved one, I mentioned and worshipped for ages decided to “move on” to the next alternate reality, leaving me and all her nearest and dearest in a lurch. And I was shattered enough to be dripping away for life, basking in the love and affection I have had in my life because of her. 

She also left some unanswered questions, some qualms which are probably debatable and sensitive territory, I realize.

A very jovial person was she, full of life, zest, energy, buoyance and free spirit. Her flamboyance alone was infectious enough to compel one to join her in the vibrance and the idiosyncrasies she personified which are now a part of my reality, her legacy.

And yet today I was somehow compelled to think back and reflect upon the discussion started by her. Shortly before she passed away, she was discussing how terminally ill people should be given a dignified death, having read an article in the TOI regarding the same.

And yet, today as I sit and look back, I realize that her life, full of love, compassion and care that she seemed to radiate and scatter around to all in contact with her like a phoenix was a source of pure hope and joy. But, it is always not the case scenario for all I know. 

Like Dumbledore put it very well in the Harry Potter Series

To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.

Well, sometimes for some of those who seem to have a tryst with fate itself, things are not easy. What I am trying to put across here is the immense suffering, pain and anguish many have to face when threatened by life-threatening diseases or scenarios where due to age, disease, or any kind of physical, mental or other challenges they are helpless, indisposed of sorts, to be able to move on themselves in life.

Yes, you understood right? I am referring to those who for some reason turn terminally ill aka those patients for whom clinically a lower rate of predictability stands as far as achieving and reaching back to an acceptable quality of life is concerned. These may also include those who show poor neurological health due to post-cardiac arrest, major accidents, and haemorrhages to major organs leading them to a state called “vegetable” where they need external assistance even to support basic life functions. 

I could not help but sit back to pause and think, is dignified death so difficult a thing to get, especially when one is so terminally ill that keeping him alive with the help of support and assistance is but just a formality? Where you cannot even fathom the amount of pain he/she might be going through physically, mentally and otherwise, trying to “drag on” like a rag doll, lifeless and akin to a sack of lifelessness and nothing more?

In this state of a confused rigmarole of emotions, I decided to also check up on what exactly is euthanasia.

What is Euthanasia?

It refers to the act of deliberately ending a person’s life to relieve his/her suffering allowing them to die and “move on” in a dignified manner.

There are 2 types of Euthanasia:

Active Euthanasia:

This refers to mercy killing. Yes, indeed it means killing a patient by active means for instance injecting a patient with a dose of a lethal drug. Before you grimace, let me take a sec here and explain why this might be necessary. Sometimes, life takes a ruthless turn, plunging one into a never-ending abyss of pain and suffering through which the only possible way that seems to be leading out is “death”. 

Passive Euthanasia:

It refers to intentionally letting a person die by withholding artificial life support such as a ventilator or feeding tube. This one is usually adopted and adhered to as a “last” step when the patient stops responding to all forms of treatment otherwise. 

Upon research, I realized active euthanasia is illegal in India, whilst passive euthanasia is legal albeit under strict guidelines. In 2018, the Honorable Supreme Court of India legalized passive euthanasia and approved a “living will” to provide terminally ill patients or those in a persistent and incurable vegetative state, a dignified exit by refusing medical treatment or life support.

 In tandem with this, in September 2019, the EOLC (End of Life care) policy was adopted and put in place at AIIMS, New Delhi. 

EOLC refers to care given to people who are nearing the end of their life. This policy which was prepared by a team of experts involves a timely identification of patients who may benefit from EOLC, mainly those who are expected to survive a few days or weeks as also those for whom a low chance of achieving an acceptable quality of life is expected.

Once, this assessment done by the doctor is communicated to the patients and their families to give consent for EOLC, steps are taken to enable such patients to have a dignified dying process with proper familial, physical, emotional, social as well as spiritual support.

And yet, there is a lack of a uniform system for providing better end-of-life care for terminal patients. 

The AIIMS EOLC policy states that An institutional policy can be a good alternative as there is no national policy for EOLC.

And yet, just to clarify, EOLC is radically different from active or passive euthanasia. That is because it adheres to keeping patients comfortable when treatment is futile and lets them die with dignity.

EOLC, which is being touted to be adopted across all hospitals will surely provide dignity in death and also save healthcare costs incurred in the management of many terminally ill patients admitted to the ICUs.

But, the question still remains: Should Euthanasia be made legal?

Euthanasia: A Right to Mercy Killing or a Dignified Death?

To be honest, if you ask me the first argument that comes to mind is the better judgement-the more radical one aka why should we think of taking our life even in the worst-case scenario which is nature and God’s best gift to us? Do we really have the right to decide and do so?

And yet, from the dark labyrinthine passages of our heart comes a deep whining, a wailing pleading for freedom, for Nirvana from pain and endless suffering. Wouldn’t it be kinder to just let them go perse’, go away in peace to a place where they shall be in a much better form than the horrible travesty they have become into, in this mortal life form?

A difficult and perhaps the most challenging musing I have ever thought upon. My personal opinion scales somehow seem to be tipped “in favour” of legal euthanasia. No, don’t judge me guys coz sometimes it is wise to just “let it go”

Keeping that troubled one alive but just about is the worst thing you can subject him/her to. That is because you might be doing so in a fit of your own selfish interest to be able to see them alive. But, by doing so you surely are lacking empathy, not seeing the pain endured every moment, which is something I’d say not even Satan himself deserves.

And rightly so, in keeping with providing dignity in dying, since 1942 Switzerland is one of the countries which has allowed assisted suicide as long as the motives are not selfish. In fact, from what I came across in some news archives they have even legalized and created a suicide capsule, a coffin machine which offers painless death by reducing oxygen to a critical level in the said capsule.

And yet many might stand by the age-old argument saying “never say die and keep fighting till the last breath.”

Nope guys, it is not so. Fighting till the last breath is feasible and adoptable only if you are in a position to fight. Empty carcasses cannot be rolled over on rocks on pronounced to be waging wars. Similarly, if the person’s desire to continue might have ceased or gone away for some reason, you are already fighting a lost battle trying to keep him alive and kicking. Still, apologies if my comments might be disturbing or appear too intimidating to all those who have read this far. Sorry, guys I just feel that maybe its time we really do understand and acknowledge that yes, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure and let that one be approached and reached with dignity and will rather than being so pained that you are compelled and coerced into begging for it.

Related: Unabashedly Rakesh Jhunjhunwala: An Ode To The Big Bull of The Indian Stock Market

Hope you guys resonate with some of my musings. Sorry, wanted to upturn some pain into your chalices today. Hope you guys don’t mind. And yes, remember life is a beautiful choice. Because we are the ones who choose it and we also hold the right and the duty to keep ourselves as well as all around us happy and at peace. Live, love, rejoice, celebrate and remember You only live once. 

Take care guys!

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  1. Neelam September 29, 2022 at 1:20 pm

    Hmm quite an intense food for thought it is

    1. Rekha Bhagtani October 16, 2022 at 1:46 pm

      Absolutely Neelam! I agree with you. It is a complicated as well as a sensitive issue. One which needs empathy as well as attention.


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