The right to death

March 20, 2011 12:18 am | Updated 12:18 am IST

“Take me back to the hospital, son; or else I am not going to be cured!”

This was what the old man whispered in his feeble voice. He was sent back home by the hospital after diagnosing that his was a terminal case and no possible cure was at sight or within reach. Considering his age, ailment and the availability of medical expertise and facilities, besides the affordability of the family, the hospital considered it wise to allow the patient die a natural death at the caring hands of his family. The family accepted it without protest. This is a common scene in countries like India, more particularly in rural India.

In the eyes of the patient, his desperate will to live a few more years had been thwarted by not providing treatment. What is worse, he could even not cherish the false hope of being cured in the absence of any medicine to swallow, any doctor to be found around, or even the mechanical caring of a nurse in a hospital bed. Instead, probably he received blank looks from his sons, daughters and wife. The man was dying every moment as he shed tears out of not wholly physical, but more mental pain — the pain of feeling that he is not cared for.

In the eyes of the doctor, he followed his professional ethics of giving the last humane touch to his patient by not disclosing the truth. He was also kind to the patient's family not squeezing out of it a large sum of money in the name of hospital bills.

The family accepts it as a natural end.

Had this been in the case of a well-to-do or VIP patient, he could have survived a few more days on the strength of expensive treatment. But our rural patient was allowed to die without it. Shall we call it an offensive ‘mercy(less) killing'?

For the last few days I have been seriously thinking of making a death will to be proclaimed somewhat like the following:

I Sauravpran Goswami would like to request the authority/doctor and /or my family to do me the most precious favour by relieving me of the pain of living at the most proper time by injecting a lethal medicine intravenous, or by helping me with a poisonous pill to swallow, or by removing the oxygen mask I might be living on, or by any other effective way he/they could think of in any of the following cases: I am brain-dead; I go into a permanent vegetative state (PVS); I suffer from an unbearably painful and, at the same time incurable disease; keeping me alive to lead a non-humanly life happens to be too costly to be borne by my family; and any other condition materially equivalent to any of those mentioned above.

I would appeal to the appropriate authority to grant me the right to death — good death, painless death if at all it respects my ‘right to life.'

Aruna's case has many aspects:

True, nobody can say the woman, who has been lying in a Mumbai hospital bed for 37 years, has been suffering unbearably as she is not in a position to express how she feels. But a life like that of Aruna's could be allowed to continue only on the following grounds:

The existing laws do not allow depriving her of her life; one does not want to be termed a murderer by taking her life; fear of God; it is against “our value-system;” and one enjoys (if at all it is an enjoyment!) her company.

It is obvious that none of the grounds concerns Aruna's interest; instead all concern the interests of the hospital staff, friends, family and the custodians of value.

Aruna does not, because she cannot, have a will for euthanasia. But defined as mercy killing, euthanasia can probably be rightly applied to Aruna. There is no point referring to ‘our values', since values are not to be seen as ours, yours or theirs; they are humane in essence.

(The writer is a Professor of Philosophy in Gauhati University. His e-mail is )

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