The other day my friend remarked that the term ‘euthanasia’ or ‘mercy-killing’ as it is commonly known, is an oxymoron at par with a virgin prostitute, a vegetarian hamburger and the likewise. She said, “Why? Isn’t ‘mercy’ all about saving someone?”
Post ‘Munnabhai’, many people have decided to rethink their views regarding euthanasia. A lot of them, who had started looking forward to a positive change that ‘mercy killing’ could bring about, have reverted back to the same old belief, by looking at euthanasia as nothing less than a ‘sin’! The arguments have remained intact. The self-appointed moralists of the country will cry themselves hoarse, shouting out to anyone who would listen (actually to even those who won’t), that the life of a person does not depend upon the whims of another. “You can’t insert the lethal injection on someone, just because you think that person is obsolete!” growled a panelist in one T.V show. “How can you think of such a thing, when everyone knows that even terminally ill patients are known to have miraculously recovered?” asked another. (‘Another struck by the ‘Munnabhai’ syndrome’, I sighed!).
I wonder if people who pose these questions sincerely believe in their cause, or is it merely for the sake of sounding like the spokespersons of NHRC that they put forward such issues. Aren’t their problems and concerns, far removed from reality? I get a feeling that these people, like Jeeves, are so ‘intoxicated by their own verbosity’, that they fail to see another world beyond the wonderous Bollywood. Sounds cruel to the power of infinity? Inhumane? For all those who subscribe to the above mentioned views on euthanasia, I’d like to narrate an experience that I had in an old age home a few years back.
Savita Devi was 87 years old. She had outlived her husband and two siblings. Her children, worried about the rising medical bills, decided that an old-age home would be the best option to relieve them of their increasing duties. After all they would go to meet her every weekend and there she could also socialise with other people of her age. This would take away half her physical ailments, they agreed. That was five years back. When I met Sarita Devi, she could barely talk. Her companions informed me that in the last five years no one had ever come to see her nor enquired about her. From the in-house nurse I gathered that Sarita Devi was suffering from a severe kidney infection. Her liver too, was malfunctioning. Her eyesight that had always been weak, was giving way. She was already semi-blind. She often complained about terrible pains in her lower back. In short, she was completely bed-ridden, unable even to perform her basic bodily functions. In the last visit of the doctor, he suspected an acute blood infection.
The old-age home, a charitable organisation can’t afford to bear the cost of her treatment. So, Sarita Devi lies in her bed in the rectangular dormitory surrounded by darkness. Her sufferings are too much to bear for even those around her. They plead for divine intervention to put an end to her miseries. Her life is no longer of any use to anyone, not even to herself. Looking at her, I realised that she too, was probably praying along with others for death to deliver her!
Savita Devi is not an isolated case. A careful look around the neighbourhood will tell us that there are people, who are well past their primes, ask only for a dignified death – unlike Savita Devi’s abandoned, lonely and painful existence.
Mercy, unlike what my friend argued, is not about “saving someone”. It is about compassion and sympathy towards another being. True, most of the times, mercy does amount to granting someone life, but, as I have tried to depict above, it isn’t always that. At times, mercy can only come in the form of mercy-killing!