To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Ideally there should be as much dignity in death as in life.
The Hindi movie Guzaarish highlighted potently the dilemma of euthanasia. The character played by Hrithik Roshan is apparently happy and even a role model to many. He inspires people to look squarely in the face of life’s challenges and reaffirm the value of positive living. Ironically, however, he chooses death for himself because he is terminally ill, undergoing acute suffering both physically and mentally, and there is no hope or chance of improvement.
The Law Commission in its 126th report recommends euthanasia (mercy killing). “A dying man,” says the report, “who is terminally ill or is in persistent vegetative state can be permitted terminate it by premature extinction of life.”
Yet Aruna Shanbaug has been denied that privilege. The Attorney General, G E Vahanvati, has ruled against administering euthanasia to Aruna who has been in a vegetative state for 37 years.
Aruna was a nurse in a Mumbai hospital. She was sexually assaulted by a sweeper of the same hospital against whom she had lodged a complaint of theft. The man avenged himself by sodomising the woman in the most brutal way. He held her neck by a dog’s chain while assaulting her. The insufficient supply of oxygen drove her into quasi-coma from which she never really woke up except for some occasional reactions to certain irritating stimuli. The incident took place in 1973.
Vahanvati’s arguments are that the Indian culture cares for the terminally ill, that euthanasia will impede pro-life research, and that “western parameters seldom apply to Indian conditions and culture.” [As quoted in the Times of India, 3 March 2011.]
Is the Indian culture so caring indeed? The rising number of ‘homes’ for the aged, the millions dying in India’s streets and slums without getting enough food to eat – let alone medicines for illnesses, the thousands driven out of their homes and lands in the name of progress… Is the Indian culture as caring as Vahanvati imagines?
Euthanasia will impede pro-life research is Vahanvati’s second reason. Does that imply that the terminally ill should go on suffering interminable agony for the sake of research which will benefit others? Is Vahanvati asking the terminally ill in India to be martyrs for the sake of social welfare? Doesn’t that demand contradict Vahanvati’s first reason related to India’s caring?
And what about western parameters? What is left in India that is not yet influenced by western parameters? Even the ultra-nationalists in India wear western dresses, use western gadgets, bring in funds from the west…!
Who is Vahanvati trying to fool through his sham?
Vahanvati also referred to the opinion of the staff of the hospital which has been looking after Aruna for all these 37 years. The staff are against the euthanasia proposed by Aruna’s biographer. One can understand the love and sentiments of the staff. Aruna was their colleague. They are ready to extend their care and help to a colleague until her natural end. But the question is: are they really helping Aruna? Would Aruna really want the kind of help they are giving? Is it better to let Aruna die with dignity than live in perpetual misery at the mercy of other people for god-knows how many years?
In the case of Hrithik Roshan’s character in Guzaarish, the subject was conscious to make a choice. Roshan made the choice to kill himself, to anticipate his sure death by a few months, and thus cut short the agony of existence. And die with dignity.
In the case of Aruna, the subject (Aruna) is unable to make the choice since she is not conscious. The people who are close to her should stand outside their sentiments and make an objective choice on behalf of Aruna. Perhaps, they should realise that real love is about liberating the object of our love from the clutches of our notions and prejudices. Aruna’s colleagues can take a lesson from Guzaarish.
We should not also let an individual suffer agony and ignominy in order to gratify our own moralistic vanity and pomposity. Is Vahanvati listening?
Personally, I wouldn’t like to live even a single day as a helpless dependent on anyone. Let me sign the warrant of my euthanasia here and now if it will ever be needed.