Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Whose Life Is It Anyway"

I remember the movie so well. I guess I saw it sometime in the early 80’s. And now the renewed interest in Euthanasia triggered by the Court ruling on a petition to assist mercy killing, begs that I get the movie DVD and see it all over again.
That was a memorable movie “Whose Life Is It Anyway”, with Richard Dreufus in the main role of a sculptor who is consigned to the hospital bed as a quadriplegic, paralyzed down below the neck, after a car crash. He eventually wins the case for his right to extinguish his life.

The life of Aruna Shanbaug is no life for the past 37 years. One has to look at assisted dying without the prejudice and emotions attached, and necessarily sans the antiquated philosophy camouflaged as ethics, incited by religious conditioning. The court made an admirably enlightened observation in the ruling on the mercy killing petition that a carte blanche acceptance of Euthanasia on the statute would be dangerous in the society we now live. It said that the ethical values are abysmal that the law will be misused by the unscrupulous society. I liked that comment. When someone introspects and tells that indeed we are mean. It is refreshingly in contrast to the hyped moral and ethical values of the society that many often trumpet.

Disconcerting and ridiculous is the reaction of the medical staff of the KEM hospital where the unfortunate woman has been confined as a piece of vegetable. Though the medical staff have providentially taken care of the quadriplegic and orphaned woman, their sloganeering in praise of a long life for the crippled woman and death to the petitioner who sake the court ruling to accept euthanasia was conceited and bizarre. The very same folk who braved and demand their right to take care of Aruna Shanbaug until her natural demise was crying for the blood of the petitioner. Is this hypocrisy, illogical passion?

Euthanasia must be legalized and with sufficient riders that will ensure the law is not and never misused and arrogated.. The anachronism in our criminal law is the section 309 which punishes attempted suicide. Perhaps the gentry who demand capital punishment as retributive justice may even think of sending to the gallows a person who killed himself. The British did that on the corpses of the Diwan of Travancore, Velu Thampi  and Kunjali Maraikar, the Admiral of the Zamorin of Kozhikode. They killed themselves before they could be captured and in fury the British hung their dead body on lamp posts. Can we term those suicides as cowardly acts and indulgence of sick minds? Apart from the psychological factors that may push a person into the extreme ground for suicide, I  see it as violation of  fundamental right if one is  prosecuted for deciding enough is enough in this world. If one does not have the right over one’s life, is that not against the very foundation that ensures fundamental rights? Similarly if a person who is absolutely perfect in his bearings decides that he has had enough of agony and suffering from the terminal disease he is afflicted decides to seek assisted euthanasia, why not?
What right do we have to say that one has to suffer and wait till a natural factor consumes life? It is cruelty and unethical. As for Aruna Shanbaug who has spent the last 37 years as brain dead, it is travesty of justice for her. “We will not let go her until natural death intervenes”, says the staff of KEM hospital. A group of hospital staff who love life so much in the same breath shout death for the petitioner.

The bottom line is if we cannot play God and alleviate the hardship why secure that the sufferer suffers till the day natural cause intervenes? All the more in cases as special as this?
It is crocodile tears of a society, moral outrage of a society that is awash with false and archaic notions, that deny mercy killing. Euthanasia must be legal. It is for the courts and the legislature to think and devise riders that will ensure the act is out of ethical considerations only.

A society driven by edicts of faith, still consign the dead to the funeral pyre or dump in pits in back yards of churches and temples instead of donating the cadaver to medical dissection, and thereby enhance the value of learning and opening new realms in human physiology for posterity; a society that still desist from donating harvestable organs after death, should not cry against the idea of Euthanasia. Legalising Euthanasia will be a right step forward.Help people live with dignity if  that is impossible let them die with dignity.


Balachandran V said...

I had commented about it elsewhere.

What is most amusing is the fact that a society which denies the right of an individual to live and assert himself, now act so sanctimoniously about mercy killing. The SC itself suggested that a specialist committee should be constituted and looked into the application for euthanasia as to whether the life in question has no chance of becoming normal again.

There was another blog in which this issue had appeared; you would be amused at the so-holy comments of the readers who were against euthanasia!

The bottom line is, it doesn't matter to Aruna Shanbaug. Or does it?

There is a French movie, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which is entirely shot from the perspective of an accident victim who is totally paralyzed except for the movement in one eye and a sharp brain.
Whose life is it anyway is originally a play ( I have it) and Richard Dreyfuss was superb in the movie. Of course, as he was able to articulate, the man could present his own case and win it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it would be the right step forward. I don't remember the movie. I think I need to look for it here. I too think she should be freed from this life. But, did I understand right that you say the same about suicide? That I will not advocate. But no one can punish the dead! Can they?

Pranavam Ravikumar a.k.a. Kochuravi said...

Good Post!

Insignia said...

The outcry of the KEM staff taking care of Aruna is unwarranted. Agreed they are her true friends and have been constantly taking care of her; the service is incomparable and divine. Yet, one has to think about Aruma. She has struggled for 37 long years; isnt that enough? while the culprit is free and not even regretting.

Right to live - do we have that in our country? How many hit and run accidents we see everyday? how many animals are killed on the road mercilessly? Do we really value life? Common; whom are we kidding?
We Indians call ourselves affectionate and caring; but are we?

Talking about suicide; the example you gave of Veluthampi, Diwan of Travancore as you said are not suicides. They are martyrs.

But we cant equate the suicides we see everyday among ordinary people. Having right on one own's life does not mean they be a loser and end their life.

No one's problem is the greatest, problems are there because one has the capability to solve it and go on. Suicide? Its a cowardly act.

sm said...

Euthanasia must be legalized and with sufficient riders that will ensure the law is not and never misused and arrogated.
agree with you

anilkurup said...

@ Balan,

Yes indeed society loves to be holier though it knows its is not.

anilkurup said...

@ Jyothi,

You must get hold of the DVD and watch the movie. As Balan said the main character wins his case hands down only because he could articulate his case convincingly. The poor Aruna cannot even blink.
As for suicide, I do not advocate law to not criminalise the act of suicide or an attempt. It is cruelty. A mind in turmoil does something threatening his life and a civilsed society should rather treat him or her with compassion and not foist the stupid and cruel law on the person.

anilkurup said...

@ Pranavam Ravikumar

Thanks for the visit and comment.

anilkurup said...

@ insignia, I guess my reply tro Jyothi's comments answers you as well.
The martyrs you mentioned - yes indeed their acts were acts of courage and self respect. And was not suicide out of mental turmoil.
But the law criminalsing the act or attempt is archaic. Like the one that does not let go a terminally ill and suffering person. It is denying dignity in life and in death.

anilkurup said...

@ sm

Thanks for the comment

dr.antony said...

This BBC ethics guide summarizes most arguments in favor and against euthanasia.
37 years is a long time in some ones life.But then how can we know what she suffers to relieve her of her suffering? Or does she suffer at all?
In a country like ours,where every loop holes in the law are manipulated for some ones benefit,we will be really treading on the slippery slopes.
It might end up as means of elimination.
I have that movie.You can easily download it too.Let me know if you need help to get it.

anilkurup said...

doc antony,

Men like you in the medical profession should be able to tell the state of a vegetative human body. I guess we have physiological studies advanced enough to discern the state of the diseased and bedridden. A college of physicians must be able to analyse and tell if a person will turn around or not. And the profession can offer dignity even in terminal stage. Then why not?