Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mercy killing in India ?

A very sensitive subject indeed. Mercy killing, or allowing a person to take his own life (or a team of doctors to do so) is a dilemma that raises ethical questions all over the world. For a world that has derived many of its laws and regulations from religious backgrounds (Ten Commandments / The Gita / The Koran / etc..), mercy killing is something that raises the hackles of a large section of the world's population. It is only permissible in some countries, and that too under strict control. In many other countries (even one such as the United States), mercy killing has run against a moral hard rock and many physicians have been sentenced for helping in carrying it out. In a recent case of Terry Schiavo (Wikipedia), the case went through major conflict, with people at all levels (politicians, religious figures, family rights groups, etc) getting involved.
The basic premise for mercy killing is simple: There are many medical conditions that are terminal, and there is no established medical treatments that can cure the disease or prevent death. And unlike movies, people don't dance or sing till almost just before death, they go through horrible phases of steadily declining abilities - losing control of vital motor abilities, losing control of their mental faculties, unable to fend for themselves and being dependent on others, and a steadily increasing pain. In such cases, there has been the logic that given that their condition is terminal (that is, they have reached a condition where death is confirmed and they no longer have a life that seems meaningful in any way), they should be allowed an option to end their life when they still can command control of their life.

Taking the first step towards legalizing euthanasia or mercy killing, the Law Commission has decided to recommend to the government to allow terminally ill to end their lives to relieve them of long suffering. It allows those whose death is virtually certain to avoid their painful journey to the end.
The core of the recommendation to make euthanasia legal stems from several SC judgments which ruled that 'life does not mean animal existence’. "If a person is unable to take normal care of his body or has lost all the senses and if his real desire is to quit the world, he cannot be compelled to continue with torture and painful life. In such cases, it will indeed be cruel not to permit him to die," says the report, receiving final touches from Commission chairman Justice A R Lakshmanan.

However, aside from the moral and ethical problems that this issue comes up with, there are many other problems that arise when such a discussion comes up:
- There are a host of new treatments that are arising as we experiment more with genes and new areas such as stem cell technology, so is it right to assume that a condition that is treated as terminal now could not become one where a treatment is possible in a few years
- Who decides whether the condition is terminal ? If it is a team of doctors, who do you trust ? How do you prevent misuse, especially when we have seen so many new cases whereby elderly people are dumped because of the effort of taking care of them
- Will this become a poor vs. rich thing ? Suppose that a very expensive treatment is available abroad, and a poor person cannot afford to get this done for the terminal condition ?
- How will the actual logistics of carrying out the termination of a medically terminally affected patient be carried out ?
- In a country where there are many more needy people than hospital beds, would this become a misused thing ?
What do you people think ? Is India ready for something like mercy killing ?
I agree that we need to do this, subject to some stringent checks and balances.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:45 PM