The latest controversy surrounding euthanasia triggered off by the case of Aruna Shanbag, a 60 year old woman who has been in a vegetative state for the last 37 years has renewed the question of what is ethical or not ethical.
Here is a woman who has been lying in hospital for all these years, cared for by nurses, who have been trying to see if she can be revived. The situation does not seem to be very hopeful, in that she has never responded so far and unlikely to do so in the future. Harsh as it might seem to mention this observation in the context of a human life, the fact remains that she has occupied a bed in a Mumbai hospital for 37 years and likely to do so for a long time to come. Obviously she cannot be sent away - she is in no position to go away, nor does there seem to be any family to take her back. She is brain dead (going by the various reports in the media) with no quality of life. She cannot eat (she is artificially-fed everyday, she cannot see, hear or talk). Now the question is does this meet the requirements of the law to allow artificial feeding to the person to be withdrawn.
One can argue against euthanasia in this case, as the person in question is not in a position to give her consent to having her life terminated. But if there is any fear of misuse of this right by greedy relatives, then I have only one question - just what would the poor woman possess, for which interested parties would want to eliminate her? We put suffering animals "to sleep" and term this as mercy on a creature which cannot express itself verbally. Either way, we are trying to kid others while kidding ourselves. If "putting to sleep" is not an act of mercy when it applies to humans, how is it an act of mercy when applied to animals? Conversely, if it is an act of mercy, then on what grounds can we deny this to human beings while being so considerate to animals?
This is one side of the story. Let us now look at individuals who are suffering from chronic ailments and have no hope of any relief . There is no possibility of curing them Doctors are not in a position to offer any relief - that unfortunately is the limitation of the state of the art in the field. Just what right has the law in this case to deny the ultimate relief to one who seeks it? Whose body is it anyway? If a citizen has a right to live, then conversely he/she should also have a right to decide when he/she wants to terminate the agonies suffered by mind and body. Are these law-makers in a position to guarantee the suffering parties any quality of life and care thereof? If they cannot guarantee care, then what right do they have to impose life on anyone? Where is the social security system to pay for medical expenses and for continuing care? The person in the situation may not have the financial wherewithal to continue treatment or to afford care, may not have a family which is willing to provide for them, and may well end up in penury and starve to death. This unfortunately is acceptable to our law, but not the right to choose a dignified exit from pain and suffering.