Good Death or Endless Suffering?
In Greek Euthanasia means ‘Good Death’, but is it?
It is derived from the Greek word εὐθανασία meaning “good death“: εὖ, eu (well or good) + θάνατος, thanatos (death). It refers to the practice of ending a life in a manner which relieves pain and suffering. According to the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, the precise definition of euthanasia is “a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering.
Much debate has been raised along the two different chains of thought; as to whether it should be considered as a “Voluntary Suicide” or “Involuntary Murder”. It is the most active area of research under Bioethics.
The first textual reference of Euthanasia is made by the historian Suetonius who described how Emperor Augustus Caesar, “dying quickly and without suffering in the arms of his wife, Livia, experienced the “Euthanasia” he had wished for”
Euthanasia basically can be classified into three main branches:
1. Voluntary Euthanasia – In this case the Euthanasia is cinducted with the consent of the patient. It is legal in Belgium, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA.
2. Non-Voluntary Euthanasia – Euthanasia conducted when the consent of the patient is not available is called Non-Voluntray Euthanasia. This basically includes the ‘Groningen Protocol’ which terms Euthanasia of Infants as legal.
3. In-Voluntary Euthanasia – Euthanasia conducted against the will of the patient. It can also be termed as homicide.
The most notable case in India where Euthanasia is being considered is the case of Aruna Shanbaug.
Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse from Haldipur, Karnataka has been in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ for the past 37 years after being sodomised by a Mumbai hospital sweeper.
On the night of 27 November 1973 he attacked her while she was changing clothes in the hospital basement. He choked her with a dog chain and sodomized her. The asphyxiation cut off oxygen supply to her brain resulting in brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury apart from leaving her cortically blind. The initial medical examination to verify rape as the crime found that Aruna had no vaginal bruises and her hymen was intact. She was menstruating on the day and therefore the rapist did not penetrate her. Subsequent medical reports proved that she bled for days together from the anus.
The police case was registered as a case of robbery and attempted murder on account of the concealment of anal rape by the doctors under the instructions of the Dean of KEM, the late Dr.Deshpande perhaps to avoid the social rejection which might break her impending marriage to Dr. Sundeep Sardesai.
Speechlessness following a rape can go deeper. Aruna Shanbaug’s continuing silence is not the outcome of fear or shame: she cannot speak at all. Since the assault, she has been in a vegetative state. On 24th January 2011, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for Euthanasia filed by Aruna’s friend journalist Pinki Virani, by setting up a medical panel to examine her. However, it turned down the mercy killing petition on 07th March, 2011. The court, in its landmark judgement, however allowed Passive Ethunasia in india.
The judges disagreed with Virani’s plea that the Shanbaug was already dead. Not feeding her any more and letting her die shall not amount to killing her. Shanbaug was in PVS, which was different from the medical state of brain dead (which is irreversible), they said.
‘Even when a person (patient) is incapable of any response, but is able to sustain respiration and circulation, he cannot be said to be dead. The mere mechanical act of breathing, thus, would enable him or her to be ‘alive’,’ said the judge. Stating that there appeared little possibility (of Shanbaug coming out of PVS), the judges said: ‘The question now is whether her life support system (which includes feeding) should be withdrawn, and at whose instance.’