Saturday, March 26, 2011

Euthanasia My views

Civilization is a term which means many things in many a context, but we tend to rank a nation, its people and social-religious groups based on its civilization content. As a nation, we Indians justifiably if I may add take great pride in our ancient heritage and civilization. The principle content of this is the concept of the universal consciousness or oneness, which pervades all that exists. These kind of conclusions came from highly advanced and Self realized souls. Thus civilization contrasts with barbarianism or primitive existence. Civil society is governed by laws which address the questions rising out of difficult situations. India is blessed with a visionary constitution which has taken care of many situations. Aruna Shanbaug's case has served as a catalyst to open up a debate on euthanasia.

Euthanasia stands for good death "Eu" good and "thanatos" death. It really means a humane end to existence in those undergoing inhuman suffering. This can take the form of death by consent in those suffering , but conscious to decide for themselves whether they wish to continue their existence. On the other hand is the situation, where the person is kept artificially alive by life-support systems for a sufficiently prolonged period, in which there is no hope of recovery in the current medical scenario. Here also comes the question of utilization of scarce resources and money for keeping alive in a vegetative state a body with negligible consciousness. The danger is of voluntary suicide in the former and involuntary murder in the latter situation.

When we wish to address this situation we cannot see it in isolation. Laws of the land consider suicide to be illegal, but consider abortions of unwanted babies to be legal. In this land of the Upanishads, where good and evil exist, but are believed to be part of the same one universal consciousness, we have a law on the statute which permits capital punishment for rarest of rare crimes. While life and death are inevitable as creation and destruction, humans have as a race tried to overcome nature and have been trying to play God with some may say varying degrees of success. On the other hand natural disasters and our constant desire to acquire more and at any cost is leading us to doomsday. Our ancestors have contemplated on these phenomenon and rationalized human suffering as a consequence of "Karma" or tainted action resulting in individual and collective suffering. We can overcome our "karma" by our attitude towards suffering and pleasure. Adversities bring out the best in humans and history is replete with the saga of men and women who have overcome tremendous odds and achieved impossible feats.

The protagonists of the right to die with dignity seem to be able to decide that there comes a point where existence of a person is useless merely because a normal individual loses his or her physical or mental faculties. Taking this argument to its logical conclusion we have already decided that abortion is legal and now we wish to make ending existence legal. Although, there will be safeguards to minimize or prevent misuse, I submit that no existence can be deemed useless. Every form of life has a divinely ordained purpose and we as humans cannot decide on this matter. A virus, bacteria, amoeba, plant and for that matter any life form in any stage of evolution has a purpose which we may not perceive with our human faculties.

As doctors, we have been trained to treat the patient based on "evidence based research" on a physical or at best physiological model, without taking into account emotion, intellectual or spiritual insights. We seem to believe that we when we cure we are eliminating disease. Curing is defined as caring and assisting nature to self heal. Thanatology is a field of study wherein human beings are made to accept death and embrace it as a part of universal consciousness and instead of having a conflict with it, to embrace it. Modern medicine does not recognize this and we are not trained to tell the patient that we have nothing more to offer to patients facing terminal illnesses which have no cure. If at all we need to cure we need to learn to withdraw ourselves and allow nature to decide whether the body will heal or die. Alleviation of suffering, in the form of palliative medicine and all forms of comfort physical, physiological, emotional, intellectual and spiritual must be given to the sufferer, to enable him or her to embrace his suffering as a consequence of his or her "karma" .

It is another matter that we human beings are endowed with the freedom to decide what we want to do within the constraints of law, condition to not impinging on the choice of others. We are considered different as we have the faculty of discrimination, which enables us to make choices. Many of us make the wrong choices and chose to die by our bad habits, wrong diets, drugs, substance abuse, stress , petty jealousies and shameless materialism. We also have a right to end our lives or allow our lives to end by choosing not to take treatment for terminal illnesses which have no known cure. We have a right to palliative care, but we do not have the right to die or to decide that someone can be allowed to die. Our journey of life came with a destination and a return ticket which cannot be canceled, preponed, postponed or refunded. It is governed by the divinely ordained laws of Universal consciousness.