By Garima Kushwaha:
Euthanasia has recently been in discussion since Aruna Shaunbaug’s case in India, who was left in a vegetative state of pain for 42 years, but also after a healthy but depressed 24-year old girl was granted permission for euthanasia in Belgium.
Euthanasia, which is the practice of ending your own life to relieve pain and suffering, is permitted in few countries including Belgium, Netherlands, Colombia and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Albania and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico and Montana.
Three main arguments opposing legalization of euthanasia are:
1. Considering psychiatric patients as terminally ill
Euthanasia is meant to relieve pain that is unbearable and incurable. A pain classified as such can be either physical or mental. While mental disorder can be treated through psychotherapy and/or medication, it is, many a times, referred to as “hopeless condition” and hence qualifies for euthanasia. According to the New Yorker, 13% of Belgians who were euthanized last year weren’t terminally ill, as 50-60 psychiatric patients are euthanized each year in Belgium according to the nation’s federal euthanasia commission.
A person requesting euthanasia, as per the law, must be able to request it themselves and must demonstrate that they fully understand their choice. However, depressive illnesses are known to distort a person’s thinking and hence any judgment by a mentally ill person is questionable.
2. Slippery slope from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia
The opponents’ of active euthanasia debate how legalized voluntary euthanasia can slip into involuntary euthanasia. The professor of law and medical ethics, John Keown from University of Cambridge, says in his report, “Once a doctor is prepared to make such a judgment in the case of [a] patient capable of requesting death, the judgment can, logically, equally be made in the case of a patient incapable of requesting death”. “If a doctor thinks death would benefit the patient, why should the doctor deny the patient that benefit merely because the patient is incapable of asking for it?” he further argues.
In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine has already reported such spillovers to involuntary mercy killing in a study. According to the Daily Mail, the study found that around one in every 60 patient deaths involved someone who didn’t want to die and half of the patients were over the age of 80. Additionally, two-thirds of those who died were not suffering from a terminal disease.
The report also mentioned that very often doctors would not inform the families because they considered it a medical decision to be made by them alone. The author of the study Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor of Hull University said: “The decision as to which life is no longer worth living is not in the hands of the patient but in the hands of the doctor.”
3. Hampers doctor-patient relationship
Euthanasia has become a part of a doctor’s job in Belgium. However, the idea that a doctor can take a life may destroy the very foundation of trust between doctors and patients when a doctor, who is seen as a healer, can decide to end the patient’s life on their discretion. This ‘God Complex’ is another point in the controversy.
The American Medical Association opposes both euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in its official statement. The statement reads: “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”
The fight against euthanasia law has been steaming up in Belgium after the removal of an age limit for the request. Many opposing groups in Belgium and worldwide are hoping to revoke the liberalization of the law of euthanasia and the right to die. Hence, it is extremely important to consider all the effects, concerns and potential misuse of making such a practice before we propose to bring active euthanasia to India.