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India is unprepared for a 'euthanasia' law

Written by: Staff

Mumbai, July 23 (UNI) Even 22 years after the bill for legalisation of 'Euthanasia' or mercy-killing was allowed to be lapsed by Professor Sadanand Varde, who himself introduced it in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly when he was a member of the Legislative Council, India is still unprepared for a law accepting it.

While the section 309 of the Indian Penal Code says that attempt to suicide is a criminal offence, it does not highlight euthanasia.

However, it is considered as an offence under the same section and any person assisting an attempt to commit euthanasia, can be accused u/s 306 of IPC for abetment to suicide.

Professor Varde had argued 22 years ago that if a terminally ill patient cannot be treated with the existing medical technology and doctors have declared the disease incurable, that person's wish to be subjected to euthanasia should not be considered a crime. But the debate never reached a conclusion even after circulating in the House for more than a year.

Dr Jignesh Gandhi, a surgeon at King Edward Memorial Hospital, stated that the people who desired to end their life were those trying to end their pain and suffering. Terminally ill patients, who have no hopes for recovery, who maybe be suffering from last-stage cancer or AIDS, may want to stray away from the guilt of being a burden to their loved ones or simply unable to bear the pain of radiations and chemotherapy anymore.

But there is no case where a doctor would assist a patient to commit euthanasia, as it may become a question to his entire career. Also, the Hippocratic Oath, taken by doctors deters them from allowing or assisting euthanasia - 'I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel!' History dating to the time of Hitler, brings forth the most gruesome colours of involuntary euthanasia, when Nazis terminated the newborns, young children, sick and disabled claiming them 'unworthy of life'.

The Additional Solicitor General of India Balwant Desai said, ''We cannot make a law without considering the social growth of a country. The level of knowledge and understanding is the basis for arriving at any decision by the policy-makers.'' The words by Thomas Jafferson strike a chord, read as, 'The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good governance.' However, at the same time we cannot forget that any law can be misused. Legalising euthanasia can result in a family member wanting to kill the patient if he is a burden or even for the sake of his property.

But Mr Desai further added, ''If a good principle is difficult to implement, replacing it with a bad one does not justify. Moreover, there can be built-in safeguards for any law to prevent its misuse.'' The only mode however, practiced here is letting a brain-dead person off the ventilator. Nonetheless, it is a long procedure and involves certification from two independent doctors who are not connected to the case in anyway, explained Dr Gandhi.

He believed that while this method was accepted and acknowledged in India, it was important to make people aware that they could help many more lives by donating their organs in case something like this happened to them.

Dr Gandhi further added that there were organisations in the United States that approached people to give their consent when they are healthy and normal for donating their organs if ever any mishap occured and they went brain-dead. ''We could also have such voluntary consent from our people. It's like this - we are happiest when some of our relative needs an organ donated and finds one but we are unprepared to be that donor for someone elses relative,'' he said. ''Even when we die, we have the capacity to save some lives.

Why not do it?'' he questioned.

Another aspect is the approach of Courage in India, a non-governmental organisation, headed by Venkat Iyer that abhors euthanasia. Himself being a cancer patient, he believes that life is a precious and divine gift. Euthanasia is immoral and against the law of nature and just because we are still ignorant of the true meaning of life and death, we are rejecting the importance and value of human life.

''Having myself gone through radiation and chemotherapy and knowing the complications it creates (his femoral artery burst due to radiations), I still believe, just relieving pain and providing love and care to those suffering will take away their desire to die,'' he added.

Thus, even though it was legalised in Nothern Australia in 1995, US state of Oregon in 1998, Netherlands in 2000 and Belgium in 2002, India remains unprepared for it morally, legally as well as socially.


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