Dying With Dignity


“Why die? Because every journey has its departure time and only the traveller has the privilege and the right to choose the last day to get out. Why to die? Because at times, the journey of no return is the best path that reason can show us out of love and respect of life, so that life may have a dignified death.?/font>

?Ramon Sanpedro

Willed Death


looked at the old woman and I could see her suffering?yet there was nothing that anyone could do. Everything that the doctors could possibly do, they had tried. One complication had led to another. Her relatives were around her? one of them ?her daughter I presumed ?was in tears. I had been seeing that old woman for 3 days now. She had been shifted from the intensive care unit as the doctors felt that there was not much chance of her surviving. But what made me feel worse was the fact that the woman herself said only one thing, “Main jald se jald upar jana chahti hun.?/i> (“I want to go up as early as possible.? It was then that I actually wondered whether it was worth surviving those wretched days in pain. Would it not be better if someone just painlessly took away all those miserable moments and ended it all? Isn’t it more sensible to shorten that excruciating period?rather than try and prolong it without any success?

This had happened quite a few years back. I had gone to visit my grandmother in the hospital. In the process, I learnt about this old lady. And to this day I wonder why the doctors around her had simply not ended her trauma. But then I thought, would that have been right? Even though the woman wanted to end her life, was that the correct thing to do? Is that how things are supposed to work? If the doctors had eased her pain by ending her life, wouldn’t that have been as good as a murder committed by the doctor?

It is indeed startling to imagine a doctor committing such a so-called “heinous deed? After all a doctor’s duty is to save lives?not purposely end them! But what if the patient wants the doctor to do so? Should the doctor forget all his ethics and think only about the patient’s feelings? What would that be called? And it was this curiosity that made me look up this one word in the dictionary ?euthanasia?“bringing about a gentle death in the case of incurable and painful disease?

In layman’s language it is simply “mercy killing? Now, the term euthanasia encompasses acts from lethal injection to “assisting?in suicide, to withholding basic levels of care from non-terminal patients. In all cases of euthanasia, the action or omission is expressly intended to cause the death of a person. It has been in practice down the ages. But it has been criticised since times unknown. It has been a part and parcel of society though it cannot be officially admitted as such. And it has simply had one reason ?to rid the pain of the patient once and for all?when all other possible means have failed.

A big no-no

But it is the termination to all worldly pleasures?and pains. The right to “die?has never been granted?In fact, ending one’s life conscientiously is considered a crime?that is, suicide is a big no-no according to the constitution of most countries. This is simply because no government wants its citizens to die. But what the government doesn’t seem to see or maybe doesn’t want to see is that no person on this planet would want to end his or her life without a very strong motive behind it. And pain is usually the main culprit.

There have been plenty of cases where people have demanded the right to “die with dignity”… in simple words they have requested permission to let someone put an end to their never ending and incurable suffering. There have been only a few cases when the permission has actually been given. Only countries like the Netherlands and certain parts of Australia actually legalise euthanasia.

Euthanasia is like an opportunity for people with terminal illness to get a permanent cure. Both the doctor and the patient play a major role. It is the will of the patient and the mercy of the doctor. It gives the patient a chance to choose the time of his death. It gives the patient a chance to die without having any regrets. It is like attaining freedom from a cruel and punishing ruler?/font>

Convenient concept

So why is it considered an offence? It is because the constitution says that any form of homicide ?whether culpable or non-culpable is an offence and if culpable it is regarded simply as manslaughter. The person who is responsible for causing the death is regarded as guilty of murder and should that person try to prove that he or she is innocent, it is simply ruled out as the Court says that no one has the right to practically choose if death can be inflicted on him or her. Thus the doctor may be held responsible. If for some reason the doctor is not found guilty, the patient is considered a criminal for attempted suicide.

The main reasons for questioning the morality of euthanasia are:

  1. Whether there can be a misuse of the practice ?for instance where property matters and inheritance are involved. This can be a hindrance to the spirit of euthanasia.

  2. Life is precious and here the ethical principles of life are involved.

Life is considered a fundamental right. To many people it seems that euthanasia is simply a means of deriving sadistic pleasure at the expense of the patient’s life. It is like taking the right away from the person. But what people do not see is that no human being would give up his life unless subdued by extreme tribulations. It is only the pain that drives the individual to the cause of unnatural death.

Euthanasia can actually be considered as a measure for a patient to “die with self-respect and honour? It should be looked upon as prevention against the hard ordeal of anguish without any solution. If the patient willingly chooses to die only because he knows that there are absolutely no chances of his condition improving, the act of killing him will decrease his predicament. In that manner, it is a selfless act on the part of the doctor.

So what exactly might be in the mind of a patient? I read this in a magazine and thought it deserves a mention: Ramon Sanpedro was one such patient. He demanded the assistance of a doctor to help him die with dignity. He was paralysed in Spain as a result of a swimming accident during his youth. He described himself as “a head attached to a corpse? He wrote: “Why die? Because every journey has its departure time and only the traveller has the privilege and the right to choose the last day to get out. Why to die? Because at times, the journey of no return is the best path that reason can show us out of love and respect of life, so that life may have a dignified death.?These words from a suffering patient emphasize the strong desire to end the catastrophe that seems to besiege him.

Thus the concept of euthanasia, however controversial it may be, is meant only for a good cause. It should be accepted constitutionally as well?if one is given the right to live, one must also be given the right to die?and that too to die with dignity. Thus, although death is the means used in euthanasia, the only reason for doing so can be expressed in one sentence:

“The actual motive is to kill the pain, not the person.?/font>

Amaey A. Parekh
Nair Hospital Dental College
First Year Bachelor of Dental Surgery

The prize-winning essay in a competition organised by the Society for the Right to Die with Dignity.