22September2018

Andaman Chronicle

The Daily Diary of the Islands

Euthanasia By Any Other Name!

‘Illegal’ use of force is widely considered a literal antithesis of democracy while ‘free’ opinion remains the constant goal of like-minded individuals who continuously persist with tweaking situations and statute to satisfy majority needs. 

The deliberations over euthanasia’s bonafide applicability in states in question too pivot on the same principal. It’s this ‘illegal’ use of force – at times, replaced with coercion, undue influence or plain mistake - to obtain consent from a dying person, that baffle the very basis of euthanasia. The use of force can be legitimised through democratic means. ‘Democratic Means’ include legislation fetched by a like-minded electorate whose religious sentiments can be manipulated through one sweeping attempt, as the state of Washington did. But, when it comes to those diverse in their reasoning and swayed by different religious compulsions, the electorates are starkly divided in opinion and nearly impossible to rein in by any single, however overwhelming, force.

Religion plays a huge influence on psyche since birth and value-systems generated by peer and socio-cultural influence imbibed throughout life strategically affect our decisions for years to follow, till death too and its influence cannot be discounted.

One could presume a physician possesses skills to practise a line of medical treatment. But to presume that s/he is legally qualified to corroborate a dying patient’s consent as ‘free’ and immune of ‘undue influence, coercion, mistake, fraud and so on and forth’ seems illogical.

In India, the practice of euthanasia in varied forms continues almost without prejudice. Like: The killing of an ailing calf in Sabarmati Ashram, at Mahatma Gandhi’s instance which caused much commotion as he received some angry letters on the subject too back in October 1928 as mentioned in Gujarati weekly Navjivan.

“A calf, having been maimed, lay in agony in the ashram and despite all possible treatment and nursing, the surgeon declared the case to be past help and hope. The animal’s suffering was very acute.

“In the circumstances, I felt that humanity demanded that the agony should be ended by ending life itself. The matter was placed before the whole ashram. Finally, in all humility but with the cleanest of convictions I got in my presence a doctor to administer the calf a quietus by means of a poison injection, and the whole thing was over in less than two minutes,” had said Bapu.

“Would I apply to human beings the principle that I have enunciated in connection with the calf? Would I like it to be applied in my own case? My reply is yes. Just as a surgeon does not commit himsa when he wields his knife on his patient’s body for the latter’s benefit, similarly one may find it necessary under certain imperative circumstances to go a step further and sever life from the body in the interest of the sufferer.”

And then, among Jains, Santhara a philosophical concept of attaining ‘Samadhi’ dating back to over 2,000 years is a common practice. In Jainism, Santhara stands for spiritual withdrawal from worldly existence. Accordingly, a person deciding to attain Santhara first prays, meditates and practices fasting every day. Then, the person gradually gives up solid food, confines oneself to a bed and finally relinquishes even liquid-diet.

According to evidence present at Ahmedabad-based LD institute of Indology, the first recording of Santhara deaths began between 250 B.C. and 700 A.D when a total of 24 such deaths were recorded on manuscripts and Jain scriptures. Apparently, between 700-1650 AD over 35 deaths were recorded, while during1800-1992 there were 37 cases of Santhara.

Among Hindus, Prayopavesa, or fasting to death, is considered an acceptable way to end one’s life in certain circumstances. Starkly different from a rather sudden suicide, Prayopavesa is a gradual process, giving ample time for the patient to prepare himself and those around him for his death.

In November 2001, a California-born Hindu leader Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami gave up his life by Prayopavesa after finding that he had untreatable intestinal cancer. The Satguru meditated for several days and then announced he would accept pain-killing treatment only and would undertake Prayopavesa - taking water, but no food. He died on the 32nd day of his self-imposed fast; and, without the fanfare of lofty legislation to help desist force and acknowledge ‘free’ consent.

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