The judgement on passive euthanasia by the Supreme Court is a welcome one, which the medical technology can otherwise prolong indefinitely even a vegetative life. In many terminally ill patients, when it is widely known that the patient will die, putting him or her on the ventilator is nothing but giving him or her unnecessary pain in his/her final hours, and yes, a lot of added cost, which is a problem, especially for financially unsound families. I have personally seen many poor families, who leave their family members in the hospital on the ventilator and never return. Against this backdrop, it cannot be gainsaid that it is a landmark judgement with far-reaching consequences. It ensures that those whose recovery is not possible and who are medically unfit and want an end to their life can avail of the benefit of passive euthanasia. It has also been stipulated in this landmark judgement that it should be ensured that relatives do not misuse this provision to get rid of those who are not fit. For ensuring this, certain safeguards have been inserted and very rightly so. No doubt, India now joins a club of few elite countries, where passive euthanasia has been made legal and this will inspire certainly many other countries also to follow suit. It is really a giant leap in the right direction, for which the Supreme Court certainly deserves full accolades. In our world for anything, there are cons and pros. So, the government should control positive euthanasia. Those who misuse this should be punished very seriously. Sending someone from our world is very painful, but seeing them suffering every minute is hell for both the patient and family members. However, a section is raising a hue and cry over this judgement. But here it is worth mentioning that the soul every religion teaches us is immortal. So, I fail to see the big fuss about death. That too in a Hindu nation, where in the Gita, Lord Krishna clearly tells Arjun that death is just a passage into another existence and only an illusion. One has to do what’s right, and I remember a friend of mine, a very humane and kind person, whose mother had no more will to live, who was old and tired and weak and had lost even her appetite, requested her son to let her die peacefully in her home. She told him she did not want to eat and nor wanted to drink. He respected her wishes. In a week, she was gone peacefully and happy. But, if he had not followed her mother’s advice, the alternate would have been an ICU hook-up till all the funds she had were depleted and then the plug would have been pulled off leaving the family impoverished. Hospitals are filled with the world over with elderly hooked up on all kinds of life support systems, only as long as caring relatives have money.
In this perspective, this is yet another historic judgement delivered by the Supreme Court of India. For, there is no point in prolonging one’s life by putting him/her on artificial life support system, once he/she has slipped into coma and there is no chance of retrieval. The apex court has rightly concluded that right to death with dignity is extension of right to live with dignity. It may be recalled here that in 2011, the Supreme Court had recognised passive euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug case, by which it had permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment including withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients, not in a position to make an informed decision. It was in this landmark case that the Supreme Court, for the first time, laid down guidelines for euthanasia and also made a distinction between active and passive euthanasia. Aruna, who was a nurse, was brutally raped and beaten by a sweeper, which made her as good as dead and she had been bed ridden for 42 long years and was in a permanent vegetative state. Her condition for such a long period was most gut-wrenching and this was what compelled even the Supreme Court to sit up and take notice and recognize the passive euthanasia. Therefore, this judgement of the Supreme Court is a real tribute to Aruna Shanbaug. For, it is noteworthy that the right to die in a dignified manner will also save family members, landing in a debt trap for unnecessary expense on terminally ill person with no hopes of revival. But, there are many barriers in this way, such as: It is dangerous for the advancement of medical science. There may be mental pressure on those doctors who give euthanasia. It will result in large-scale misuse, in order to settle property and financial disputes within families. Some doctors may also exploit such an opportunity to the maximum. A normal person can be kidnapped and turned into vegetative state by such doctors. Therefore, these above points need to be addressed.
By Deepak Kumar Rath