Thursday, December 17, 2009

Should we allow mercy killing?

By: Subhadeep Bhattacharjee

Should we or should we not?
The debate has started again after the recent case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug came into light. Social activist Pinki Virani is fighting for 'mercy death' of a rape victim who has been in a vegetative state for 36 years. Aruna who was working as a nurse in Mumbai's KEM hospital, was sexually assaulted and sodomised in Nov 1973 by a ward boy. The rapist strangulated the then 24-year old Aruna with a dog chain cutting off blood supply to her brain, leaving her blind, paralysed and speechless.

The law of the land in India does not allow Euthanasia, or mercy killing. It may be recalled that in 2004 Andhra Pradesh High Court today rejected an appeal by the mother of a 24-year-old patient seeking mercy death for her son K. Venkatesh so that she could donate his organs. The former chess champion was on life support system and the disease had no cure, according to his doctors. Venkatesh finally died after a futile wait for the courts to accept his plea for euthanasia. There have been high profile case of Euthanasia including freedom fighter Veer Savarkar and English king George V.

Mercy killing is banned in India as this can be grossly misused by people. Considering the fact that we are still a country of lawlessness allowing Euthanasia might open doors for legalised murders. But time and again cases emerge where mercy killing seems to be the most merciful act. For 36 years now, Aruna has been kept alive by the hospital staff who have force fed her crushed food. It is a painful and completely useless life she is passing through.

As the debate rages on her lawyers question the very Article 21 (Right to Life) of the constitution which is being seen as a major road block to allowing Euthanasia. Article 21 ensures right with dignity but isn't keeping a woman in persistent vegetative state by force feeding a violation of one's dignity. The Supreme Court is now hearing a plea on her behalf from Virani who is seeking direction for Aruna's life to be ended.

Is making Euthanasia legal the solution? No, certainly not as this can be grossly misused. The Government can set up expert panels at state level which include medical practitioners and legal experts to take decision on cases of Euthanasia. Considering cases like that of Aruna's mercy killing seems to be a better thing that mercilessly keeping a human being alive and making him of her go through all the sufferings.


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