Monday, 5 May 2008


I have been thinking about (or rather rethinking) mercy killing since someone left a comment on one of my posts. What triggered the conclusion of how I feel about it is a recent documentary that I saw (more about it in a bit). Before we reach the conclusion let me start at the very beginning.

My very first debate on the topic was while I was in college. It was not a discussion with a group of friends, but a serious competition. I was being judged by one of the most formidable debating legends of college and had to make an impression. So to over dramatize the entire situation, I opened my speech with the following statement (yes, I do remember it to this day and you will understand why) – “Think about an old woman whose body is covered with bed sores, lying on a bed unable to move, drenched in her own blood and pus. Add to this the fact that she has no control over her bladder or bowel movement. She is lying their asking for mercy and the right to a life of dignity. Can we deny her her dignity?”

Such melodrama! Now if I think of it, there are solutions to all the above problems. Does the person suffer pain, yes; however, the treatments ensure that the patient’s dignity is maintained. Do we have the right to allow the person to end their own life? No, once again I say no. We do not have the right to take what we cannot return. My argument is not just moral it is also about the practicable application of what we would deem to be “mercy”.

While I argued for euthanasia , I put forth most arguments that were related to the suffering of the person. However, at some point I did not stop to think that the suffering can be alleviated, maybe not completely but at least to some extent. To some extent, there is hope that can be reinstated in the person with a will to live. Life is precious and someone who has lost that perspective can restart to have that vision with the help of fellow human beings.

So why do I feel that the lack of a will to live is the most important attitude lapse amongst mercy killing beggars? That is where this documentary comes in. In 1912, there was a race between two groups of people to reach the South Pole. The first group was being led by a Norwegian (Amundsun) and the second by an Englishman (Scott – that was his name and he was not Scottish). Amundsun’s team won the race and returned to the safety of their homes. Scott’s team lost and on their way back from the pole all four members of the team perished under the white blanket of snow.

Recently, a television channel sponsored a similar race between two groups to ascertain what led to the unfortunate end of Scott and his team. The two groups were made to wear 1912 gear, given the same rations as the original teams, they followed the exact routines that Admundson and Scott had and even used the same modes of transportation. Once again, the Amundson team won and the Scott team lost. However, the key discovery that the Scott team leader made was that the defeat had not disheartened them. They were never supposed to win anyway. Scott’s journal on the other hand has a very melancholic tone to it. Photographs taken show a broken man. There is a terrifying grey dullness about the team members’ accounts of their return. While both teams were equally physically battered (the original and the contemporary Scott teams that is) there was a difference, and huge one at that, in the morale. That in the opinion of most researchers led to the deaths of the four courageous and talented men.

Has this one documentary shaped my views entirely? No, it has merely helped me crystalise my thoughts. While I have illustrated why I feel that lack of a will to live can push an individual to take her own life, I am still to comment on the practical issues surrounding euthanasia.

In the materialistic and capitalistic world that we live in, money governs most of our enterprises and actions. Hospitals are no different. The shortage of beds in a lot of cases could potentially lead to doctors unjustifiably certifying that a patient is in sound mental health to take the decision of ending her life. Property and money has not stopped siblings from shooting one another, so mercy killing can definitely be used as a valid means. Legal systems world over are already overloaded and cannot be entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing fair “executions” of euthanasia. I am not sure that a bullet proof method does exist to administer this lethal injection and take away the most awe inspiring creation of God – human life!

With a shaky moral and practical base, I am not convinced how I can support euthanasia. What would I do, if I were to come to an old age such as the one I described, well I do hope that as always, I find a friend who helps me move on.


Pankaj Singh said...

Hi Tanu,

In one of his plays, Shakespeare asked,”Then is it sin to rush into the secret house of death, ere death dare come upon us?”

Forcing people to go on living when they don’t want to live in suffering and pain is immoral and against personal freedom. In extreme circumstances, human beings should have the right to choose when and how they want to die.

It is insensitive to say that these people lack the will to live, majority of them battle against hope for a long time before coming to such a courageous decision. I am not sure if you have met any one of them.

We are not only biological but spiritual entities as well and death is not an end in itself. If life is the most beautiful gift of God, so is death :)


Anonymous said...

Hello Tanu,
There are 6 billion different ways of living and therefore of dying. I believe living and dying are intimatley connected, if we learn how to die we will know how to live. Todays gurus say they can choose to die- leave the phyiscal body at will- for most of us less in control of such miracles we too can choose to leave the physical body with the help of medicines or let nature takes its course. It takes wisdom to make that call- it depends on each individual case and the motive behind the action and if one is at peace with ones self and the world with the decision they choose to make that is the right thing.