Euthanasia, a perplexing subject worldwide, is once again the centre of a debate in India with the death of the woman who started it all – Aruna Shanbaug - the mercy killing plea for whom was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2011.
The court had delivered a landmark judgment, allowing passive euthanasia under exceptional circumstances. Last year, responding to litigation by NGO Common Cause, the Apex Court had served a notice to all states and union territories, inviting a debate on legalising passive euthanasia so that the law’s position is formalised.
Experts, however, are divided over the issue. Dr Nagraj G Huilgol, president of The Society for the Right to Die with Dignity, Mumbai, said, “This should have happened long ago. In Aruna’s state, the best thing would have been to let her die in peace. But our fight continues; we are trying to get ‘living will’ legalised.”
Dr Yogesh Vilaskar, intensivist at Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, Khar, said India is not ready for mercy killing yet. “We could be cases where the kin of patients would choose this as it is convenient. Before it is considered for legalisation, an extensive debate is required,” he said.
A similar opinion was voiced by Dr Pradnya Gadgil, paediatric neurologist and epileptologist at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital. “This is a controversial subject. To allow it, one could be playing god in some cases, while being just human in others. But in some cases, one does wish mercy killing was legal,” she said.
Advocate Flavia Agnes, the director of the legal and cultural resource centre ‘Majlis’, said Shanbaug’s case was beyond the debate on mercy killing. “In her case, there was no attempt to provide the care that could make her better. Sadly, the court entertained only the hospital’s version,” she said. “But I am not sure if mercy killing or ‘living will’ would work well for the rest of the society.”