An elderly childless couple from Mumbai is seeking permission from the President for “Active Euthanasia”, a practice illegal in India. For those who do not know, euthanasia is the practice of intentionally ending one’s life, to relieve pain and suffering. It is of two kinds, passive and active.

Passive euthanasia means withholding treatment necessary for the continuance of life. For example, when medical professionals switch off life-support machine or disconnect a feeding tube, so that the patient transits from life to death due to failing vital functions.

On the other hand, Active Euthanasia is when a terminally ill patient is given lethal substances like an overdose of painkillers, to end his or her life swiftly. Many countries, including India, have legalised passive euthanasia for patients undergoing immense suffrage or disability with no chances of making a recovery. However, active euthanasia is illegal in most countries, including India.

The debate over which practice is more moral is yet to conclude among the medical fraternity. This is because all medicos have their individual moral stand on this issue. They are the ones who have to switch off that life support machine or give that lethal injection.

But this case of the elderly couple, who have no such pressing health problems or disabilities, the plea for active euthanasia raises another sort of question. The couple feels that they do not want to burden people with their care. But is it right to burden the conscience of a doctor by seeking active euthanasia, despite not having any grave health problem? Or is it wrong to ask the couple to bear the pain and suffering of old age, just because our moral stand does not allow us to let them die? Is it even right to give people a say in when they are going to die?

Active euthanasia is allowed only in cases where people with grave medical conditions have only suffering and pain in their future. For them, death is the least painful option. Poverty, old age, low scores in IIT exams, failure in love or loss of job. For every person who wants to end his or her life, the reason seems valid and life a mere burden.

Then it is the society’s responsibility to make sure that such people feel wanted. We should make sure that old people should not feel expendable and unwanted by society, whether they have their own children or not. A person facing hardships in life should be given counselling and opportunities to revive his or her interest in life.

Euthanasia grants patients death on humanitarian grounds. Similarly, humanity also urges all of us to make sure that people do not lose their will to live. Death should not become a choice for someone who is healthy but not happy.

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Picture credit: UEA

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