Hyderabad: Cancer patients Madhavi (17) from Chittoor and Jyoti (20) from Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, and Suman Das (19) from Malda, West Bengal who suffered a severe spinal cord injury, have something in common, either they or their family have asked permission from the government for administering active euthanasia this year.
Apart from bringing their suffering to an end, a main reason behind asking for mercy killing was lack of economic capability of the parents of these youth to continue treatment.
In the many cases that have surfaced over the years that have added fuel to the euthanasia debate, apart from physical suffering, most of the victims had expressed their inability to bear the cost of healthcare as a reason to end their lives.
In palliative care centres and hospices, most terminally ill persons are patients suffering from cancer, the second largest killer in India. Every year, more than five lakh people die of cancer in the country and seven lakh new cancer cases are registered. The disease not just kills but makes life difficult and painful for the patient and family.
Dr C. Sairam, oncologist at MNJ Institute of Oncology and Regional Cancer Centre, said, “Providing more access to healthcare in government hospitals is important to reduce the number of terminally ill patients asking for mercy killing. Only around 20-25 per cent of cancer patients get treatment in government hospitals.The remaining have to bear the treatment costs themselves at private hospitals. Many cannot afford the costly, prolonging treatment at private hospitals. The high costs of treatment, combined with failing health like diarrhea or vomiting 50-60 times a day, breaks their spirit. Only a few — usually the educated or well-to-do — have health insurance that covers cancer treatment effectively. The others spend all their earnings on fighting the disease.”
For terminally ill, death offers way out of pain
There are many cases of terminally ill people asking for euthanasia at palliative care centers. One such case is of a 50-year-old father of two at a hospice in Banjara Hills who is suffering from liver cancer.
Dr S. Phani Sree, clinical head at the hospice and expert in geriatric medicine and palliative care, said, “The patient has stopped eating and drinking, resulting in drastic weight loss, impacting his health further. His family sometimes break down and ask us when will his suffering come to an end.” In the same hospice, a 60-year-old woman suffering from breast cancer recently expressed a desire for active euthanasia, which is illegal in India.
Dr Sree added, “The cancer had reached her bones, which is causing severe pain and discomfort. Even though there are drugs available, the pain will not go away completely.”
Such cases are not uncommon for Dr Sree. But she is not in support of active euthanasia. “Active euthanasia is nothing but taking one’s life, and making it legal might have a cascading effect with many people going for it. There can be misuse of it as well. A terminally ill person still has life and should be provided all medical and physical comfort till death comes naturally. But passive euthanasia can be legalized wherein death takes natural course.”
Dr B. Manjula, president, Pain Relief and Palliative Relief Society, Hyderabad, said, “Patients suffering from a terminal illness and do pain ask doctors for euthanasia, which is not allowed in India. My personal opinion is that if euthanasia has to be legalised. But it must be dealt on a case-by-case basis, with a panel of experts examining them; there should be no blanket law on it.”...