On 7th March 2011, the Supreme Court of India denied the plea for euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug case. However, the verdict did not end there. The Supreme Court has also passed a ruling, allowing “Passive Euthanasia” in our country, making India one of the few countries which allow the concept at all. Philosophically, the issue of euthanasia has been a long standing three-way debate between those who completely condemn it, those who agree to it to some extent and those who condone it. One, however, cannot forget that in the Aruna Shanbaug case, the euthanasia plea was a very small issue compared to the grave injustice done to her. Her attacker was never charged with rape and infact, served a relatively small sentence compared to the brutality of his crime. Her condition may be stable but there is no way we can ignore the events that led to it, and yet we have!
Her right to die can possibly be debated but can any sane person debate her right to justice? There is a lot to be said about how we have become completely used to the way society is treating cases like Aruna Shanbaug or Bhanwari Devi. It’s sad that a woman has to think twice even before standing up to a crime.
Nevertheless, the issue of euthanasia is a very important not only in the field of Applied Ethics where it is studied and debated over but also something that each and every one of us must be aware of because it pertains to life in itself.
So, what exactly is Euthanasia? Euthanasia is popularly known as “mercy killing” but the etymological meaning of the term comes from the Greek “eu” meaning good and “thanatos” meaning death. So the meaning of the term is closer to “a good death” than to mercy killing. Just to clarify, the concept of euthanasia only comes up in the context of terminally-ill patients or those having suffered crippling accidents.
Furthermore, one must be clear about the difference between “Active” and “Passive” Euthanasia. Active euthanasia is when the patient is administered a drug or medication that terminates his/her life. In passive euthanasia, the patient is in a way allowed to die by withdrawal of all life sustaining support, for example food or ventilator. Due to the difference in the two kinds of deaths, active euthanasia, according to the Indian Penal Code, is a case of murder under the sections 302 and 304, whereas passive euthanasia is now legal in our country. The Court has laid down strict and comprehensive guidelines for passive euthanasia until the parliament passes a law.
What we need to remember is that, at the end of the day, euthanasia refers to ending a life. Whether we think we are alleviating a person’s suffering by giving a good death or not, it is still a death. Whether it is active or passive, it is a question of taking a life.
The bottom line is that it is not easy to take any position on this issue. There are moral repercussions of whatever we say. We need to think before we act. It is not so simple and we shouldn’t try to make it so, by blindly supporting or rejecting someone’s plea for euthanasia.
Can euthanasia be a simple topic for classroom discussions and political or social debate? NO! Unless we understand life, unless we understand its value, the importance and the significance attached to it, we should not be engaging in pointless and insincere debates about this issue. This also doesn’t mean that we stop questioning, thinking and reasoning about euthanasia; it just means we should start doing it properly.