Death, despite its inevitability, has always been a taboo subject for open discussion. Therefore, it was heartening to read that the Supreme Court (SC) has finally opened the debate on the controversial subject of euthanasia and issued notices to the state governments for their responses on the validity of mercy killing. The SC Bench was responding to a petition filed by the NGO Common Cause, which wants the right to refuse treatment and the right to die with dignity to be incorporated within the right to life. In 2011, the SC legalised passive euthanasia by means of the withdrawal of life support to patients in a permanent vegetative state. However, it did not approve the cause for active euthanasia in which a person can opt for a ‘living will’, which allows a person to transfer her decision-making to another, in case she goes into a vegetative state. The legality of this is under question, as wills are executable only after a person’s death.
The NDA government is against such a will, fearing that it could be misused and also equates such an act as suicide (albeit assisted), which is illegal in India. Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism disapprove of self-willed death. Jainism, however, allows voluntary death by fasting. One of the main reasons why the NDA does not support the concept of ‘living will’ is because, as its counsel said: It is open to misuse. While that’s a fair argument, it is not a strong one because all laws are open to misuse and like any law, this one too has to be implemented in letter and spirit. There is yet another stronger one in its favour: Does it make sense to allow a person with no chances of recovery to hold on to precious medical resources when that same can save another person’s life? According to the doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences’ busy trauma centre, at any given time, about six patients occupying beds are in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery. The patients are kept in the trauma centre for a maximum of one year before being declared vegetative.
There could be many counter arguments and there will be plenty who will find loopholes if a law is ever passed on active euthanasia. However this is not a strong enough argument to deny a rigorous debate and also keep an open mind to it.