Life as we end it
The debate on legalising passive euthanasia has been rekindled with the Supreme Court issuing notice to the states and union territories to start comprehensive reexamination of the sensitive issue in Parliament and assembly houses, refraining from an authoritative judicial pronouncement on the matter. In its 7 March 2011 ruling, the apex court had sanctioned passive euthanasia under ‘exceptional circumstances’ after, a petition to remove life-support for Aruna Shanbaug, a former nurse who has been in a vegetative state for 37 years, was dismissed, but with the saving grace of ushering in the landmark judgment. While mercy killing remains a volatile issue worldwide, with many of the Western nations still years away from legalising even passive euthanasia, we need to understand that the right to be requires and contains the right not to be. In other words, passive euthanasia is perhaps the only dignified exit that terminally-ill patients, after years of being under life support without a shred of hope for recovery, can have. The arguments for implementing passive euthanasia are very many, far outweighing the so-called reasons for not having it in place. For the pro-life opponents of mercy killing, who cite God as the only arbitrator in matters of life and death, there are ample medical and statistical counterdata to show that passive euthanasia actually enriches the doctor-patient experience.
While palliative cares and hospices are important and integral medical services, extending such expensive and long-drawn cares to every terminally-ill patient at government-funded public hospitals is not just unsound, it’s practically a recipe for disaster. Moreover, not only does passive euthanasia not shorten life (only by a few hours or days, in most cases), it actually improves the quality of life by not unnecessarily stretching extremely traumatic and super-costly therapies that fail to make any tangible improvements to the patient’s life and condition. In such cases, what is left is barely a shadow of the person that once used to be, and it is life-denying to keep the body, that has been denuded of any cognitive and physiological signs of a holistic life, alive mechanically. The right to good health is equally applicable in case of women opting for abortions and patients with terminal illness, since what is at stake is the idea of bodily integrity and life choices, sometimes better manifested in assisted dying than carrying on in the impassive mode.