With the proposed euthanasia draft bill of the government doing the round, we are forced to think about life and death. The debate on the idea of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering of a terminally ill person has got revived. Not only does it questions the medical emancipation of the concerned, but it also raises various other ethical concerns.
Euthanasia can be best described as the deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering to termination of life by a doctor at the request of a patient. Passive euthanasia is the requested death caused by withdrawing the extraordinary life support measures provided to the individual to keep him or her alive in a vegetative state when there are hardly any chances of revival.
After years of debacle, the Union government has finally come up with a draft bill on passive euthanasia that gives patients above the age of 16 years the right to withhold or withdraw medical treatment and allow nature to take its own course. The Union Health Ministry uploaded the draft recently, titled as Terminally Ill Patients (protection of patients and medical practitioners) Bill, on its website and has invited comments, via email, from people before June 19, 2016. The Bill provides protection to patients and doctors from any liability for withholding or withdrawing medical treatment and states that palliative care (pain management) can continue.
The fight for the demand for euthanasia or peaceful and dignified death was initiated when a nurse, named Aruna Shanbaug was left in a vegetative state for decades after being raped and strangulated brutally. In the light of the judgment of her case, the Court decided to initiate the process of passive euthanasia.
However, the Bill has sparked off various debates in the medical fraternity. There is a general disappointment over the concept of ‘living will’. As per the idea, it is defined as an advance document in which a person states their desire to have or not to have extraordinary life-prolonging measures used when recovery is not possible from their terminal condition, putting the doctors in a fix.
Also, if the person is incompetent, that is either younger than 16, or of unsound mind, or unconscious, the family who wants to withdraw or withhold treatment will have to move the High Court. With our Chief Justice of India breaking down in full public view due to the never ending case files, do we need to burden the legal system further? When the correct authority to make the decision lies with the doctor and the immediate family, what good would the legal system, which is already crumbling under the debris, would do?
The easier way would be to have a panel in each hospital that takes care of this jurisdiction, rather than taking the issue to the court which would be time taxing. The viewpoints of doctors must be taken into consideration during the further discussion of the Bill, as they are the ones who eventually have to act the part.
Passive euthanasia is a fight for death with dignity, a death which is not prolonged which takes precedence over life. Are we prepared to be mature about the idea, or being emotionally inclined we might just want to prolong the suffering of a person? Are we ready to let go?