Right to Die: Do we need it?

The death of Aruna Shanbaug makes us rethink about whether euthanasia should be fully legalized in India. Passive euthanasia was made legal by the Supreme Court of India for the patients who are in the permanent vegetative state or brain-dead . Passive euthanasia in simple terms mean 'letting die' whereby the life sustaining treatment is withheld. There are many people like Shanbaug still waiting for death, with each additional day they live a 'life' of unconsciousness, with their relatives and everyone surrounding them praying for the end of such a miserable life.

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug (1 June 1948 – 18 May 2015), was in coma for the last forty two years. She was sexually assaulted by the wardboy Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki at the King Edward Memorial Hospital on 27th November 1973. Shanbaug was working as a nurse in the same hospital and was betrothed to a doctor. After the attack she was found lying unconscious on the ground with blood splattered all over. The aftermath led to her being cortically blind and suffering from brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury. The 'death' came to her in the form of such unconsciousness, forty two years ago, with yesterday being the day when she was legally dead and relieved from the pain she bore for the last forty two years.

Pinki Virani, activist - journalist, had filed a petition in the year 2009 seeking euthanasia for Aruna but her petition was turned down in the year 2011, with the judges asking the primary caregiver, KEM Hospital, to choose whether to pursue euthanasia, which KEM didn't. In the wake of the plea, the Supreme Court of India passed a law permitting passive euthanasia for patients who are in persistent vegetative state and the brain- dead for whom the ventilator can be switched off.  Active euthanasia is still illegal in India. It refers to the deliberate action taken by the medical professionals, or another person, that leads to the death of the patient, including administration of lethal compounds.

There's a lot of debate over active and passive euthanasia with some considering them to be indifferent as they fulfill the same purpose in different ways. The administration of lethal compounds is considered way better than a patient being devoid of the life sustaining treatment to let him/her die.  The discussion over the topic is a matter of bio ethics and many differentiate it on the basis of 'killing' and 'letting die'. While euthanasia is legalized in many countries like Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, it is illegal in most parts of the world. The condition of the patients with no hope to recover from such illness needs to be pondered upon while legalization or illegalization of euthanasia. Aruna Shanbaug is no more but she gave us the gift in form of the law legalizing passive euthanasia which may help others die peacefully.

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