KOCHI: The Union government’s proposal to bring in a piece of legislation to make passive euthanasia legal has triggered a heated debate on the issue. A group of people opposing the proposal says that it would open the flood gates of medically sanctioned murder. Others feel that it is one step forward to give the individual the right to choose a dignified death. Mr A.V. Vidyadharan, convener of the Human Rights Collective, which is campaigning against the proposal, says that the issue has both legal as well as metaphysical dimensions. “I am afraid that in a country like India, the provisions in the proposed Bill will be misused. It may lead to a situation of medically sanctioned murder,” he said.
Addressing a protest meeting held by the collective in Thiruvananathapuram, Archbishop Soosa Pakiam said the mission of the Church was to protect life. “So it would oppose the attempt for a law approving mercy killing, ” he said. Dr Suresh Kumar, technical adviser of the pain and palliative care, however, feels that a terminally ill patient should have the freedom to choose death. The terminally-ill would be forced to continue their life support systems once they are denied the right to choose death. “This would only make their life more miserable. There are differences between prolonging life and prolonging death. Once somebody is forced to put on life-support systems, they are forced to bear the physical and financial liabilities for being in the ventilator etc.” Dr Suresh said.
He added that advanced medical directive or a living will was not legalised in India. However, in very limited conditions, they are eligible to choose death. “There is no need to extend the unnecessary suffering of a patient if somebody is terminally-ill,” he said. Mr K.A. Raoof, state general secretary, Kerala Government Medical Officers Association (KGMOA), says that the association is generally opposed to a policy of mercy killing. “We are the first state in the country to implement a pain and palliative care policy aimed at providing relief to the terminally-ill patients. It was a path-breaking initiative which is now being effectively implemented in the state with the support of various palliative care organisations. Since we have such a humane policy in place, the big question is do we need to implement passive euthanasia policy? Euthanasia is mercy killing. Generally we are opposed to such a policy which is against life,” he said.
Dr A.V. Jayakrishnan, state president of IMA, also opposed the move for legislation on implementing passive euthanasia. “Our country is not mature to handle a sensitive issue like euthanasia. Under these circumstances, there is a huge possibility of the policy being misused widely. There is no awareness about euthanasia among the population. Moreover, there is no unified authority to regulate, discuss and decide euthanasia issues. In most cases, the decisions on permitting euthanasia will be taken at the local level. This meant the rules can be violated at will by the people. There is a fear that it can be misused where there are disputes in the family over property. In other words, whether passive or active euthanasia, we are not mature or prepared for such sensitive policy. But we are open to debates and discussions on the issue,” he said.
According to writer and activist Dr. Khadeeja Mumtaz, the Bill has high chances of being misused. “Crimes, including illegal organ transplantation, are on the rise. If not today, in future, there is a chance that the relatives can influence the doctor to end the life of the terminally-ill. There could also be fallacies in the findings of the doctors, when they decide that a patient is brain-dead. It is sometimes dangerous to cut the supportive systems,” she said.
‘An individual should have the right to choose death’
When Mr Kochouseph Chittillappally, the prominent businessman from Kerala, approached a local court in Kochi seeking the right to die for any individual in early 2,000, many eyebrows were raised. Several persons wondered why should he waste his precious time on such matters. Some said he was seeking publicity by default. But Mr. Chittillappally remains committed to his belief that the individual should have the right to take a decision on his death. Referring to the Bill proposed by the central government on legalising passive euthanasia, Mr. Chittillappally told DC that its provisions had also failed to address the issue raised by him.
“My position is clear. The individual should have the right to choose whether he or she should continue to live or not. The person concerned should have the free will to take such a decision,” he said. “The Bill does not address the issue raised by me,” he said and added, “on the contrary, the Bill entrusts the relatives or others to take a decision.” Dismissing the charges that he was advocating the right to commit suicide, Mr. Chittillappally said that he only wanted the right for the individual to die with dignity at his/her own free will.