Euthanasia: Mercy in Death

Posted on August 17, 2011 in Specials

By Ateendriya:

“I’m not afraid of being dead. I’m just afraid of what you might have to go through to get there.” -Pamela Bone.

For years now the debate has gone on in the backdrop of pending cases after cases. The patients- terminally ill, painfully gasping for each breath- ask for a way out; mercy killing as we know it, or Euthanasia, the medical term for it. But with each such case all that happens is a re-initiation of the same old debate of right vs. wrong, with no conclusive answer for the same. The patients almost always end up suffering through their illness, despite repeated requests to be “let gone” and die painfully before the government cares to make any ruling at all.

There have been and will be countless arguments against the idea of deliberate taking of a human life. The primary argument made against euthanasia is the sanctity of human life, and the act of killing being wrong per se. Religious and philosophical context have been cited in this regard to show that the act of taking a human life is a wrong done to humanity as a whole, irrespective of the circumstances. While this view is certainly understandable, it is also vague and obviously lacks the rational perspective that a person suffering from extreme pain with no hopes of recovery has an intrinsic right to opt out of that miserable existence.

More solid arguments against mercy-killing would be legal and medical ones. First of all, the voluntary nature of euthanasia is what makes it an issue worth discussing. Hence, legally it is a concern if it cannot always be ensured that the consent to euthanasia by a person is completely voluntary and not coerced in any way. The road to legalizing euthanasia is for sure a slippery one and situations can be often tricky to asses. But this is no excuse to just do away with the issue and declare euthanasia as an act of crime in itself. The practical application, while it may be complicated, is certainly not impossibility with strict rules and regulations.

Another argument that may be presented against the concept of mercy killing is that there is always the possibility of mistaken diagnosis, a new cure, or spontaneous remission. Many doctors believe that as long as not all possibilities have been exhausted, administering euthanasia is practically denying the person a potential cure. This is a valid argument but does not outright do away with the need for euthanasia. What this argument at the most affords is that there has to be a protocol which will accept the request of mercy killing only after having eliminated to the maximum possible limit any chances of a misdiagnosis. The age of a person also counts as a factor. A person who is already at a fairly advanced age will have fewer hopes for a new cure in future. And even if such a possibility exists, it is, in the end, a person’s own right to decide if they want to suffer through prolonged illness to wait for an uncertain cure.

Also, there are certain diseases for which medical science still has no cure and sees no possibility of one in near future. Some example of such conditions are genetic ones like Huntington’s Chorea- a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and dementia; advanced stages of cancer etc. Such people often seek to opt for euthanasia, as a way out of pain, suffering for themselves as well as their loved ones.

Susan Hess from Vancouver with Myeloma said in one of her statements, “I have multiple myeloma…a rare bone marrow cancer…[that] destroys the blood, bones, immune system, kidneys and sometimes liver and spleen. The worst of it is the disintegration of the skeleton…Unless one is lucky enough to die of sepsis first; the death is long and agonizing. The act of sitting up can fracture the vertebrae and lifting the dinner tray can fracture both forearms. Who deserves that? For what principle?”

Aruna Shanbaug’s is another case of a valid plea for euthanasia. Lying comatose, paralysed and blind for the past 38 years in Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital after a brutal sexual assault by a hospital ward boy Sohanlal Valmiki in 1973 Aruna’s state of vegetative existence and absolutely no possibility of recovery calls to question the governments statement that says that “under the law of the country, we cannot allow a person to die”.

Although the Hippocratic Oath forbids a doctor to administer lethal drugs deliberately, whether requested by the patient or not, a general rule as such cannot be applied to every case without considering individual situation and circumstances. In light of all the cases which get rejected every year and patients whose pleas for a lucid and dignified death go unheard, the act of denying death to a terminally ill patient in pain seems utterly cruel and unjust.

While the implementation of the theory of euthanasia is undeniably complex and difficult with the possibility of misuse and abuse, turning our eyes away from the problem does not make it go away. If anything, a legalized system that calls for a protocol and proper authorization will help eliminate the risks of abuse. Bob Lane, a Progressive Conservative party member of the Canadian House of Commons, in his book “Assisted Suicide”, comparing euthanasia to homicide, said, “Just as homicide is acceptable in cases of self-defense, it could be considered acceptable if the motive is mercy.” With that kind of perspective, a systemized way of implementing mercy killing can be evolved, making euthanasia as a last option for those left with little or no hope of recovery or remission.