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Euthanasia? Not a simple question

Chris De Burgh once famously sang — “Oh here we go again, we’re divided from the start... It’s the classical dilemma between the head and the heart.”

india Updated: Mar 06, 2011 00:58 IST

Chris De Burgh once famously sang — “Oh here we go again, we’re divided from the start... It’s the classical dilemma between the head and the heart.”

That’s where Aruna Shanbaug and the issue of legalisation of euthanasia have left me today. Divided. My heart’s asking me to see the beauty of life while my head’s reasoning with me for the cause of a dignified death.

So I decide to hear out my head first and it asks me to imagine this:

You are lying in a government hospital bed wanting to scratch your back because the bed sores make it itch like crazy. Your stomach is growling and you wish you could get your hands on your mother’s famous biryani. The excruciating pain is getting worse as the painkiller from last night is wearing off. You want to speak, you want to cry and you want to scream. But you can’t do any of this because the doctors (and fate) have given you a grim diagnosis : persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. And the worst part is — you have been this way for the past 37 years of your life.

This is a small peek into the life (or the lack of it) of Aruna Shanbaug. What has she done to deserve this life-long sentence of persistent pain? Isn’t a dignified death nobler than a torturous, dependent life? We squeal in pain when our hand gets jammed in a door. Imagine feeling that pain for the rest of your life.

Before I can start forming any opinions, my heart starts tugging at me asking me to hear its side of the story now.

How can anyone have the right to take someone else’s life? How can you dehumanise people by calling them ‘a vegetable’? Is it because it is easier to let go of a vegetable?

You can’t get emotionally attached to a cucumber, can you? Isn’t it proof of a will to live if these patients have survived all these years? And even if euthanasia is legalised, what is the guarantee that people will not misuse it for ulterior motives? These patients have suffered so much pain in their lives.

The last thing they need is to be told that after all these years, now they’re suddenly burdensome. They need to be embraced, not abandoned. Nurtured, not murdered.

So now I’m left wondering if mercy-killing should be legaliaed. I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer can’t be a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.

There are layers to this argument. The attorney general has announced in the Supreme Court that euthanasia is “un-Indian”. To me, this seems like an escapist route.

It is not about brushing the issue under the carpet, but rather dealing with it. The apex court would do well to form a special legal division which decides on all the euthanasia pleas.

Moreover, a special framework could be devised to prevent any misuse of the law. But most important, the subjective moral judgment of any government, medical or religious figure should be preceded by the emotional welfare of the patient.

It seems that in this race between the head and the heart, the head seems to be winning. Just about.

(Muddassir Usmani is a textile entrepreneur)