What is Euthanasia?
Active euthanasia occurs when the medical professionals, or another person, deliberately do something that causes the patient to die.
Passive euthanasia occurs when the patient dies because the medical professionals either don’t do something necessary to keep the patient alive, or when they stop doing something that is keeping the patient alive.
- switch off life-support machines
- disconnect a feeding tube
- don’t carry out a life-extending operation
- don’t give life-extending drugs.
Differentiation between killing and letting die:
Many people make a distinction between active and passive euthanasia depending on moral values.
They think that it is acceptable to withhold treatment and allow a patient to die, but that it is never acceptable to kill a patient by a deliberate act.
Is there any difference?
- The answer is Big NO.
But some people think this distinction has no meaning, since prevention from treatment is a deliberate act, and so is deciding not to carry out a particular treatment.
Eventually, there is no real difference between passive and active euthanasia, since both have the same outcome: the death of the patient on humanitarian grounds.
Thus the act of removing life-support is just as much an act of killing as giving a lethal injection.
The perception of ethical of euthanasia varies in different countries and cultures. Laws and religious sentiments of people often play a major role in the way it is perceived.
Under U.S. jurisdiction patient autonomy is paramount, and many States have laws allowing advance directives, even the nomination of a ‘health care proxy’ who can decide on behalf of the patient. But the question is whether India should allow same procedure within our nation.
The deliberate act of taking away a person’s life is classified as a murder and thus a crime.
- Aiding and abetting someone in suicide too falls under crime. Owing to this, various countries have greatly varying legal stance towards euthanasia.
- It has been criminalized by the likes of Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. These nations saw several failed attempts to legalize euthanasia.
- There are some nations which allow ending a terminally ill person’s life if the person or next of kin consents. However, several conditions govern the definition of the term ‘terminally ill’. Legalizing euthanasia in these nations aims at preventing any further distress and suffering to the person.
- It is legal in Colombia, Luxembourg, Canada and Belgium.
Where is India in this?
“Aruna’s gift to the country is the passive euthanasia law. She also started a dialogue about patient’s rights though her own rights were denied to her. The people of India have gained from a woman who we left sad and lonely. In the end, only nature opened a door, not god, not the medical system and not the judiciary. She wanted to be a wife, she wanted to be happy and above all she wanted a life, which is why she came from a village [in Karnataka] to become a nurse. But the system broke her will,” Ms. Virani, author of Aruna’s Story. (Source:The Hindu)
Should Euthanasia be legal?
Arguments For Euthanasia:
- It provides a way to relieve extreme pain.
- It provides a way of relief when a person’s quality of life is low.
- Frees up medical funds to help other people.
- It is another case of freedom of choice.
Arguments Against Euthanasia:
- Euthanasia devalues human life.
- Euthanasia can become a means of health care cost containment.
- Physicians and other medical care people should not be involved in directly causing death.
- There is a “slippery slope” effect that has occurred where euthanasia has been first been legalized for only the terminally ill and later laws are changed to allow it for other people or to be done non-voluntarily.
SUPREME COURT is hearing a petition by NGO Independent Thought to legalize euthanasia and the concept of ‘Living Will’
Earlier, India has taken the stance of not allowing active euthanasia (where a life ends through the administration of lethal substances). However, it does allow “passive euthanasia” defined in the beginning.
What is Living Will?
- A living will is a concept associated with passive euthanasia. It is a legal document which allows you to express your wishes to doctors in case you become incapacitated. In a living will, you can outline whether or not you want your life to be artificially prolonged in the event of a devastating illness or injury.
A two-fold test as to when a ‘Living Will’ would come into effect.
- When the medical condition of the patient has become irreversible.
- When the prolongation of his life can be done only at the cost of pain and suffering which is at a level inconsistent with his advance directive.
The government pointed out that the Supreme Court itself, in 2011, had issued comprehensive guidelines allowing passive euthanasia in the tragic case of the bed-ridden former Mumbai nurse Aruna Shanbaug. In her case the staff of KEM Hospital took care of her till her natural death in 2015.
The government said it was finalizing a draft law on passive euthanasia called ‘The Management of Patients With Terminal Illness – Withdrawal of Medical Life Support Bill’, which was drawn up in line with the recommendations of the Law Commission of India that life support can be withdrawn for patients in persistent vegetative state (PVS) or suffering an irreversible medical condition.
The Centre, however, objected to legalizing the concept of ‘Living Will’ —an advance written directive to physicians for end-of-life medical care. It pointed out that this may lead to the abuse and neglect of the elderly, especially if they were financially well-off.
The government pointed out that the living will was a concept which contradicts a person’s instinctive urge to survive & a lot more things is yet to see in future.