ach morning for three hours at a stretch, Anil Kumar, a tetraplegic, works at his computer. A long pencil clenched between his teeth, with a curious pecking motion of his neck, he taps out words, letter by painful letter, on the specially designed keyboard. It might be software programmes if he is feeling fresh, or it might be articles. And when his mind is tired, it would be letters to friends.
"You can take the article," he said when we asked for this article which had been rejected by a mainstream newspaper. "But leave the rejection slip with me. It's my first one -- I need it!"
Rediff On The NeT reproduces Anil Kumar's argument for legalising euthanasia:
In the past few months or so, three inconspicuous
news items that appeared in the press underscored once again the
controversies surrounding the acceptance of voluntary euthanasia:
* Dr Jack Kevorkian, the irrepressible 'Death Doctor', assisted
his 30th suicide by aiding a 60-year-old California woman
suffering from a painful spinal cord disorder to die of carbon monoxide
* The Dalai Lama endorsing the views of the supporters
of legalised euthanasia in Australia, and
* The Vatican lambasting
the bill permitting doctor-assisted euthanasia in Australia's
northern territory, which they characteristically described as
an intolerable affront to human life.
Not long ago, our Supreme Court, in its boundless
wisdom, had ruled that committing suicide is an offence under
our voluminous criminal law. This ruling, needless to say, was
a temporary setback for the votaries of euthanasia. The aim of
writing this article is to initiate an uncomplicated and meaningful
debate on the legal and moral pros and cons of the rarely discussed
topic of euthanasia. I'll be using the terms 'euthanasia',
'assisted suicide' and 'mercy-killing' interchangeably.
Eight years ago, I met with a road accident and the
impact broke my cervical spine. The resultant spinal cord injury
has completely paralysed my body below the neck, including my
hands and legs, forcing me to lead a totally dependent life. Now,
I am an inmate of the Paraplegic Rehab Centre, Khadki, Pune, which
is an institution of compassion for the ex-servicemen from the
Army, Navy and Air Force. All the inmates are either quadriplegics
or paraplegics and have to cope with varying degrees of physical
disability and dependency. The inmates need round the clock care,
and the quadriplegics are bathed, dressed and fed by the medical
In August 1995, the permanent employees of this centre
went on a strike for about six weeks, demanding a hike in wages
et al. The authorities responded reasonably well by requisitioning
the services of a temporary staff and a few nursing assistants
from the nearby Military Hospital. Though this response baulked
the striking lot's intention of completely paralysing the functioning
of the centre, the inmates had to put up with unspeakable hardships.
By striking work en masse they had endangered not only
our paralysed bodies but our lives too. One dreads to imagine
what would have happened, in a similar situation, to the inmates
of an institution with lesser resources. It was a sad case of
labour, on whom our very lives depend, conveniently forgetting
the importance of compassion and humanist considerations. Our mammoth
statute book seems to be armed with all conceivable laws under
the sun, yet, not surprisingly, there is no law banning
strikes in such institutions.
The crippling quirk of fate has severely curbed my
wanderlust. However, on the few occasions I have ventured
out, the sight of my decrepit body being wheeled around in a wheelchair
by an attendant seemed to attract undue attention; oftentimes,
the curious stares I drew from the onlookers were the kind that
are generally reserved for a celebrated escapee from the local
zoo than a human being. Well, I am not that ugly! The less said
about the unfeigned unconcern of the society and the availability
of civic facilities, or the lack of it, for the wheelchair-bound,
like ramps, wide doors, etc at public places, the better. Obviously,
our penny wise and pound foolish government is more interested
in doling out 'fake' sops than providing the needy with 'real'
The afore-referred are but a few examples to cite
as evidences to show the growing callousness of our society governed
by the Charles Darwin tenet of survival of the fittest towards
its handicapped members. What can a severely disabled person do
when he/she is badly cornered by an unsympathetic world that is
gradually forgetting its moral responsibilities? Grumble about
the world's insensitivity. Grin and bear it. Little else. One
can fight the encumbrances caused by severe disability, but it
is impossible to fight the iniquities and hurdles heaped on them
by an insensate society.
It is as abhorrent to force one to live as it is to force
one to die. To stop prolonging the pain and misery, legalising
euthanasia for the terminally ill, aged, infirm and people who
find no purpose left in their living, is an alternative worth
implementing. Such a move will be consistent with disability rights
and, I might add, is in the larger interest of the society.
If we're not allowed the right to define the terms by which we want to
live, or perhaps not to live, then we lose an essential quality
of what defines us human. If a person can present a rational appraisal
of his/her case, then why should a request to seek assisted suicide
not be accorded the same respect as a request to seek medical
treatment? It would be naive to assume that everyone seeking
voluntary euthanasia is suffering from an impairment in judgement.
Let me now enumerate the major arguments put forward
by the antagonists of legalising mercy-killing and debunk their
An intolerable affront to human life.
where the peddlers of this spurious philanthropy hide when the
employees of institutions of mercy, spurred by an implacable urge
to seek social justice, strike work and put the lives of the inmates
in jeopardy. A life of severe disability or illness can become
a fate worse than death. The value of life should not be cheapened
by extending it past the point where it is no longer treasured
Redemptive value of human suffering.
the most obnoxious argument ever against euthanasia. Only the
truly insane would advocate it.
Legitimising euthanasia will somehow lead to
a holocaust scenario wherein large numbers of disabled, aged and
infirm are herded off into mass extermination.
This vision, in
this era of information revolution, is totally preposterous. We
live in a world that, unlike Nazi Germany, supports a multiplicity
of views and unequivocally endorses freedom of the media.
Misuse by deviant doctors.
Let's, for a change,
grant the benefit of doubt to our doctors. Mandatory safeguards
like i) the onus of taking the decision on the afflicted individual
and only mentally competent adults, and ii) a body of eminent
counsellors to advise the individual and, if need be, oversee the
administration of euthanasia. These set of rules should amply
dispel the unfounded fears of those who rabidly oppose the very
idea of euthanasia on the pretext that doctors would indulge in
a mercy-killing spree.
By the way, isn't palliative-therapy a less than
sanitised version of euthanasia? The truth is that euthanasia
is already being carried out on the sly. For instance, pain
relief treatments also have the effect of shortening life; the
higher the pain, the higher the dosage necessary, and
the more toxic the effects. At times, large doses of morphine
can even shut down respiration. There would be less of an opportunity
for abuse if this practice was legalised.
It is even possible that the legalisation of assisted
suicide may actually enhance a person's quality of life. Says
Karen Hwang, an American counselling psychologist, "Recent
accounts of patients in Holland (euthanasia has been unofficially
legalised there) show that the availability of legal methods to
end one's life prolongs life by reassuring people that an end
to the suffering will be there when needed. This is closely related
to a psychological concept called locus of control. The principle
is self-evident: the more control we feel we have, the better
we feel about ourselves."
People with disabilities comprise a wide and
diverse spectrum of religious and philosophical beliefs. Even
with the legal option of ending one's unmitigated suffering, people
will find stronger reasons -- ethical, religious or personal --
not to pursue this option. If we legally allow the few who choose
to die quietly, we can then concentrate our energies on addressing
the needs of the many who choose to live.
Since only the squeaky wheel gets the grease from
our government, I've aired my views regarding one's right to live
and die with dignity. Legalising euthanasia, in the long run,
will usher in a social milieu in which the helpless won't
be discriminated against and bullied by the 'fitter' elements
of our society. Opinions on this espousal of legalising voluntary
euthanasia would naturally differ and I shall not be fanatic.
Yet, I strongly feel the topic of euthanasia is unlikely
to go away until we accept it. So, why not accept it right now? Will our effete government grasp the nettle?
Only time will tell.