If you have ‘the right to live’ in the Indian constitution, you should also have the right to die – article by Kul Bhushan.
This is the background for mercy killing or passive euthanasia about which the Indian Supreme Court has asked all states to debate and decide. The basic argument for passive euthanasia or mercy killing is that it can end the suffering of terminally ill patients. In developing countries, it is also important that the medical facilities for these patients with no hope of recovery can be used better to prevent or treat diseases for many others. There are moral and religious grounds for mercy killing.
The Indian Supreme Court on 16 July 2014 issued notice to all states and Union territories on a plea for legalizing passive euthanasia. An apex court said the question of passive euthanasia (mercy killing) needs a comprehensive examination as there was no authoritative judicial pronouncement on the issue.
The government, however, strongly opposed the plea, saying it cannot be legalized as it is a form of suicide which is an offence in the country. It said that if euthanasia is legalized, then it will be misused.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted that the issue should be debated and decided by the legislature and that it is not a matter to be adjudicated by the court.
It asked the petitioner on what is the least painful way to bring life to an end as there has been discussions going on across the world on the matter and there is no unanimous finding.
The matter came on a plea by an NGO Common Cause that a person who is afflicted with a terminal disease should be given relief from agony by withdrawing artificial medical support provided to him.
Many doctors welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to hear out the views of each state on the legalisation of passive euthanasia (withdrawal of medical treatment with the intention of causing a terminally ill patient’s death). They said they were relieved that the apex court had accepted the notion, at least in principle.
This debate has been going on in the West for many decades. In the USA, passive euthanasia is legal in several states like Oregon. In the UK, the Assisted Dying Bill is before the parliament.
A nurse, Aruna Shanbaug from Haldipur in Karnataka, was working in a Mumbai hospital in 1973 when she was raped by a ward boy. Aruna has not walked or spoken a word in almost 40 years. She has been in a vegetative state since the assault. On 24 January 2011, after she had been in this state for 37 years, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for euthanasia filed by Ms Shanbaug’s friend, journalist Pinki Virani, by setting up a medical panel to examine her. The court turned down the mercy killing petition on 7 March 2011. However, in its landmark judgment, it allowed passive euthanasia in India.
Ms Shanbaug has changed forever India’s approach to the contentious issue of euthanasia. The verdict on her case on 16 July 2014 allows passive euthanasia depending on circumstances. So other Indians can now argue in court for the right to withhold medical treatment – take a patient off a ventilator, for example, in the case of an irreversible coma. This judgment makes it clear that passive euthanasia will “only be allowed in cases where the person is in persistent vegetative state or terminally ill.”
In each case, the relevant high court will evaluate the merits of the case, and refer the case to a medical board before deciding on whether passive euthanasia can apply. And till Parliament introduces new laws on euthanasia, it is Ms Shanbaug’s case that is to be used as a point of reference by other courts.
What does Osho say on this issue?
Osho is all for euthanasia but with conditions as below:
“Euthanasia, or the freedom to choose your death, should be accepted as a birth right of every human being.
A limit can be put to it, for example, seventy-five years. After the age of seventy-five the hospitals should be ready to help anybody who wants to get rid of their body. Every hospital should have a place for dying people, and those who have chosen to die should be given special consideration and help. Their death should be beautiful.
Every hospital should have a teacher of meditation. The person who is going to die should be given one month and will be allowed… if he changes his mind he can go back, because nobody is forcing him. Emotional people who want to commit suicide cannot remain emotional for one month – emotionality can be momentary. Most of the people who commit suicide, if they had waited one moment longer, they would not have committed suicide at all. It is out of anger, out of jealousy, out of hatred or something that they forget the value of life.
The whole problem is that the politicians think accepting euthanasia means suicide is no longer a crime. No, it does not mean that. Suicide is still a crime.
Euthanasia will be with the permission of the medical board. One month’s rest in the hospital – every kind of help that can be given to the person to become calm and quiet… all friends coming to meet him, his wife, his children, because he is going on a long journey. There is no question of preventing him – he has lived long, and he does not want to go on living, his work is finished.
And he should be taught meditation in this one month, so that he can do meditation while death comes. And for death, medical help should be given so it comes like a sleep — slowly slowly, side by side with meditation, sleep going deeper. We can change thousands of people’s deaths into enlightenment.
And there is no fear of suicide, because he is not going to commit suicide; if somebody tries to commit suicide he will still be committing a crime. He is asking permission. With the permission of the medical board… and he has one month’s time in which he can change his mind at any moment. On the last day he can say, “I don’t want to die” – then he can go home. There is no problem in it: it is his decision.
And euthanasia is becoming more and more a need,
because with medical science progressing people are living longer.
Right now there is a very strange situation in many countries. People try to commit suicide – if they succeed, good; if they don’t succeed, then the court gives them the death sentence. Strange! – they themselves were doing that. They were caught in the middle. Now for two years a trial will go on; judges and advocates will be arguing, and this and that, and finally the man has to be hanged, again. He was doing that in the very first place, by himself! Why all this nonsense?
And euthanasia is becoming more and more a need, because with medical science progressing people are living longer. Scientists have not come across any skeleton from five thousand years ago of a person who was more than forty years old when he died. Five thousand years ago the longest a person was going to live was forty, and out of ten children born nine were going to die within two years – only one would survive – so life was immensely valuable.
And Hippocrates gave the oath to the medical profession that you have to help life in every case. He was not aware, he was not a seer. He had not the insight to see that a day could come when out of ten children, all ten would survive. Now that is happening. On the one hand, nine more children are surviving; and on the other hand, medical science helps people to live longer – ninety years, one hundred years is not rare. In developed countries it is very easy to find a ninety-year-old person or a one-hundred-year-old person.
In the Soviet Union there are people who have reached one hundred and fifty years, and there are a few thousand people who have reached one hundred and eighty years of age – and they are still working. But now life has become boring. One hundred and eighty years, just think of it, doing the same thing… even the bones will be hurting. And they have yet no possibility of death; death still seems to be far away – they are still working and healthy.
In America there are thousands of people in the hospitals just lying in their beds with all kinds of instruments connected to them. Many are on artificial breathing machines. What is the point if the person himself cannot breathe? What do you expect him to do? And why are you burdening the whole nation with this person when there are many people dying on the streets, starving?
Thirty million people in America are on the streets without shelter, without food, without clothes, and thousands of people are taking up hospital beds, doctors, nurses – their work, their labor, medicines. Everybody knows they will die sooner or later, but as long as you can you should keep them alive.
They should die healthy,
whole, silent, peaceful –
slowly slipping deep into sleep.
And if meditation has been
joined with sleep
they may die enlightened.
They may know that only the
body is left behind,
and they are part of eternity.
They want to die. They shout that they want to die, but the doctor cannot help in that. These people certainly need some rights; they are being forced to live, and force is in every way undemocratic.
So I want it to be a very rational thing. Make it seventy-five years or eighty years; then life is lived enough. The children are grown up… when you are eighty your children will be fifty, fifty-five; they are getting old. Now there is no need for you to be bothered and worried. You are retired; now you are simply a burden, you don’t know what to do.
And that is why old people are so irritable: because they don’t have any work, they don’t have any respect, they don’t have any dignity. Nobody bothers about them, nobody takes note of them. They are ready to fight and be angry and shout. These are simply their frustrations that are showing; the real thing is they want to die. But they cannot even say it. It is unchristian, it is irreligious – the very idea of death.
They should be given freedom, but not only to die; they should be given the freedom of one month’s training in how to die. In that training meditation should be a basic part; physical care should be a basic part. They should die healthy, whole, silent, peaceful — slowly slipping deep into sleep.
And if meditation has been joined with sleep they may die enlightened. They may know that only the body is left behind, and they are part of eternity.
Their death will be better than the ordinary death, because in the ordinary death you don’t have the chance of becoming enlightened. In fact more and more people will prefer to die in the hospitals, in the special institutes for death where every arrangement is made. You can leave life in a joyous, ecstatic way, with great thankfulness and gratitude.
I am all for euthanasia, but with these conditions.”
Socrates Poisoned Again After 25 Centuries, Ch 1, Q 4
Previously published in Osho World News, August 2014
Illustration by Osho News