By Shivani Baghel

Edited by Madhavi Roy, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

A couple of days ago, a very heartwarming story had been featured on my Facebook feed. It was about Brittany Maynard.

Brittany Maynard was a 29 year old woman having only a few days to live.  On November 1st, she had planned to bid farewell to the world. She said she would die in her bedroom peacefully, with her favorite music in the background. Looks like a scene straight out a Hollywood Drama? No, it’s a real story. And a sanguine desire of many.

Brittany had gotten married last year, shortly after which she got to know of her StageII Brain Cancer. She was given 3-10 years to live. However, in April, she was informed that she had just six months to live. Her cancer was in StageIV now. Brittany wished for a cure to her disease, but as she knew, there wasn’t any. Brittany then moved to Portland, Oregano. The reason? Oregano has a “Death with Dignity” law. This place gave her the right to choose when to end her suffering. As quoted by Brittany-“I can’t even tell you the relief that provides me.
There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die.
My Glioblastoma is going to kill me and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die.
Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”

Imagine, this essence of solace coming from a patient who was about to die in less than a few days. She might have been scared, but more than that, she was relieved!

Infact, in her last days, she had been travelling immensely. Brittany wanted to celebrate her husband’s birthday on the 30th of October, and hence selected 1st November as her very last day in this world. On her last day, she decided to be with her immediate family- her mother, her step-father, her husband and her best friend. Brittany had a message for everyone: “Make sure you’re not missing out. Seize the day. What do you care about? What matters? Pursue that. Forget the rest.”

Wistfully, how many of the dying patients in this world get to pursue what matters and are able to forget the rest? How many can really PLAN their deaths like Brittany; solely to escape the misery of pain and pass on peacefully? There it is- an astonishingly few patients. As of 2014, euthanasia is only legal in theNetherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, AlbaniaColombia, and Japan and in a few states in the USA, namely, Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico and Montana. In fact, Euthanasia is criminalized in MexicoThailandEstonia, the Australian State of Northern Territory and California in the USA.

So, What Is Euthanasia?

As Webster defines it, Euthanasia is “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of a hopelessly sick or injured individual in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy”- Popularly known as ‘ mercy killing’.

Probably quite a lot of you would be able to relate it to the 2010 released Hrithik Roshan starrer – Guzaarish. Though failing to raise huge box office collections, Guzaarish garnered critical appreciation all across the country.

Euthanasia has its origin in the early 17th century  from Greek- eu  ‘well’ + Thanatos‘death; meaning easy death. Often Euthanasia is associated with Active euthanasia or Passive euthanasia.

What’s the difference?

The important difference between active and passive euthanasia is that, in Passive euthanasia, the doctor does not do anything to bring about the patient’s death.

The doctor does nothing, and the patient dies of whatever ailments or diseases already afflict him. In Active euthanasia, however, the doctor does something to bring about the patient’s death- he kills him. The doctor who gives a lethal injection to a cancer patient has himself caused his patient’s death; whereas if he merely ceases treatment, the cancer is the cause of the death.

Morally, passive euthanasia is supported by a view that killing someone is worse than letting someone die. Logically, is it so? Is it easier to let someone go in one instant or see them wither away, dying in excruciating agony each moment of every day? What is less painful? Less agonizing?

Ethically, those against the idea of Euthanasia all-together, argue that voluntary euthanasia is a slippery slope, and often lead to strategized murders, while weakening a society’s respect for the sanctity of life. They also believe that an idea of Euthanasia stands against the will of God and hinders the life-and-death cycle. Some also support the cause of suffering citing it might add value to the person’s life; value to his ‘next birth’, his reincarnation, probably.

The human race so far has had its inevitable trials of escaping mortality. Death is ultimate end and we need to know when to withdraw life support and choose to pause, halt, and not comply with bellicose treatments. In many instances, the life of patients who were about to die had been prolonged with artificial life support. The process often deprives them from bidding their last goodbyes and expressing out their unfulfilled dreams. It digresses their natural course of demise. Despite being on a deathbed, a patient’s treatment and life-support is continued till he dies eventually. Often the families are under a great financial crux, and the treatments lead them to indebtedness or even crimes. Also, prolonging a patient’s death uses up hospital resources and often deprives the needy who can be saved with medical aid. This is due to a lack of infrastructure and limited medical facilities, which are occupied by terminally ill patients. “At present, ISCCN and IPAC are working with lawyers to develop a policy and definitions for End ofLife care. They have already developed a position paper, guidelines for EOL care and implementation norms. Members said the policy was particularly important as India ranked 39 {+t}{+h} among 40 countries in ‘quality of death’ in a study by Economic Intelligence Unit’12″cited TOI in its October article.

Even though any form of suicide or disturbance of the cycle of life and death is condemned in Hindu, Muslim or Christian writings, it’s to be noted that these writings also suggest that a self-chosen death was a goal for the genuinely sanctimonious to aspire for. Islam has provisions for terminally ill patients to end their life by refusing medication.So, the religious beliefs could well be an assumption as well. Jainism explicitly allows a sharavak (follower of Jainism) full consent to put an end to his or her life, if the sharavak feels that such a stage is near that Moksha can be achieved this way. In fact, Sallekhana is the Jain religious ritual of suicide by fasting. It is not classed as suicide in the Jain religion.  The reason why I have quoted religious values of mortality and suffering is that the actions and thoughts of the medical faculty are deeply associated with their religious affiliation and education.

In India, Euthanasia was hugely debated in 2011, when the Supreme Court permitted passive Euthanasia and laid down guidelines for applications to be made to high courts for permission to withdraw life support of terminally ill people and those in a permanent vegetative state.  The landmark case was the Aruna Shanbaug case.  She was a nurse and was sodomized by her assaulter leaving her with permanent brain damage, paralysis, and cortical blindness. In 2010, SC had declared her in a permanent vegetative state. The struggle of Aruna Shanbaug was single-handedly supported by an author-activist, Pinki Virani. The Supreme Court’s decision was a significant step forward, but one that kept Aruna outside its light. “Aruna’s nurses refused to let her go and so Aruna lives on — unable to see, talk, move or emote, and fed through a tube in her nose.”Aruna’s story revived when Chetan Shah released his 52-minute documentary in 2014, called ‘Kahaani Karuna Ki’. He portrayed the lifeless life of Aruna Shanbaugand how Pinki Virani molded herself as Aruna’s companion, patron and quite literally her voice.

The world holds two very practical, very rationale views. However in the midst of these views, open discussions and debate, lie the scapegoats, the sufferers, suffering in silence and compelled to beg for their life, or death if at all it may be?

“Thou shalt not kill but needst not strive, officiously, to keep alive”


Shivani Baghel is a true Piscean at heart and likes calling herself a Dreamer! Although an introvert, she is an absolute fun loving girl once you get to know her. She loves being an Agony Aunt as she says, “nothing gives me more happiness than helping others”. Her loved ones describe her as trustworthy and honest. She prefers spending her weekends lazing around in a corner, hooked up to a novel, sipping some green tea besides her window. A foodie that she is, exploring and discovering new places around her world fascinates her. She dreams of travelling the world around and writing something unique of each place. She loves doodling random thoughts at random places. Although she calls herself a big procrastinator, she knows for a fact, that no one can nail it the way she does at the last moment. Shivani firmly believes that wearing rose colored glasses can bring you happiness for today and aspirations for tomorrow, and hence doesn’t care a bit when people ask her to get a reality check! After all, only those who have the courage to dream it can achieve it. 

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind