Does a painless death justify assisted suicide?
Franco-Swiss Franco-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard, who pushed the boundaries of post-war European cinema, breathed his last tuesday. While his life revolutionized French New Wave cinema, his death sparked dialogue on the means of his death: assisted suicide.
Godard chose to take this step because he was “suffering from ‘multiple disabling illnesses'”, and “used legal aid in Switzerland for a voluntary departure”, according to his lawyer Patrick Jeanneret. He died surrounded by his family and loved ones after living as a virtual recluse in the Swiss village of Rolle for decades.
Although she left her fans grieved, the elephant in the room remains the legalization of assisted suicide, and what makes it take such a step.
What does it mean to unplug the plug?
Assisted suicide is ending your life with the help of another person. This typically involves physician-assisted suicide (PAS), in which a doctor or medical professional prescribes a lethal dose of medication, provided the person meets the conditions required by PAS laws. It is often confused with euthanasia, which consists of ending the life of a terminally ill patient with a painless death. The difference between the two practices lies in the action taken by the patient. Euthanasia can be active, when patients ingest/inject lethal drugs; or passive, which involves the removal of the life support system.
Generally, patients are eligible for PAS after meeting the criteria of having a terminal illness, proving they are sane, voluntarily and repeatedly expressing their wish to die, and finally, take the lethal dose with their own hand. Although the rules vary from country to country.
The debate over the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide has seen many calendars turn, but only a few countries such as Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, parts of the United States and parts of Australia have legalized this practice. The underlying ethical, religious and historical implications of the practice have extended this debate very far.
Active euthanasia or assisted suicide: what guarantees an ethical death?
Critics of active euthanasia have condemned the act based on the extermination of disabled children perpetrated by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s-40s. Such a measure was taken by the German dictator under the guise of “improving the Aryan race”, thus carrying out a eugenics program. The risks of such programs being run by officials for propaganda purposes against the weakest section cannot be entirely ruled out. Further, it is argued that involuntary euthanasia violates a patient’s right to life. Religiously speaking, this agrees with the majority of denominations in the world. Religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, etc., consider this practice as a “violation of divine law, an offense to the dignity of the human person, a crime against life and an attack on humanity”. It is a common belief across religions that human life is a gift from God and should only end by his will. Moreover, placing power in the hands of family and doctors negates the purpose of one’s right to die on one’s own terms, and relatives may engage in malpractice driven by selfish motives to inherit wealth and privileges. goods.
On the other hand, Switzerland is one of the many countries that have taken a step forward in legalizing assisted suicide since 1942, provided that the person assisting has no selfish motive. Since then, people from all over the world, including Jean Luc-Godard, have traveled to Switzerland to access this service. However, euthanasia is illegal under Swiss law. About 1,300 people used the services of death aid organizations such as Dignitas and Exit last year. Both of these organizations use ingestible liquid barbiturates to induce a deep coma followed by death.
With the advent of technology, Switzerland has made strides when it comes to facilitating the PAS process. The coffin-shaped Sarco machine allows patients to end their lives painlessly by inducing hypoxia and hypocapnia (a state of insufficient oxygen supply to the tissues and reduced carbon dioxide in the blood, leading to dead). The country legalized the “suicide machine” last year. Interestingly, true to its name, it functions as a tomb for its user since the biodegradable capsule can detach from the base of the machine to act as a coffin.
Is passive euthanasia a springboard to assisted suicide?
After Jean Luc Godard’s death, French President Emmanuel Macron, while campaigning for re-election, said the government would engage in discussions with health officials and politicians to consider legalizing assisted suicide. Currently, passive euthanasia is legal in the form of stopping life-saving treatments, including artificial hydration and nutrition. It also allows patients to request “deep and continuous consciousness-altering sedation until death,” but only when their conditions are likely to lead to rapid death.
Such laws by international countries act as a roadmap for countries like India to facilitate a decision for the betterment of patients, especially terminal patients and elderly people.
Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse working at King Edwards Memorial Hospital, was physically and sexually assaulted, an incident that left her in a vegetative state for 42 years. She was unable to perform the basic functions of a human body and was completely dependent on hospital staff to care for her. Unable to bear her fate, journalist Pinki Virani filed a petition to end her suffering. In a landmark decision in the Shanbaug case, the Supreme Court recognized a person’s right to die with dignity and legalized passive euthanasia, allowing the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients who do not are not sane to make a decision.
Right to life without right to die
Obviously, assisted dying could be a step towards compassion for those who suffer and respect for their autonomy in their lives. Additionally, medical procedures can be exhausting and costly for both the patient and their family. While the world has made vast technological advancements in medicine, painless treatments with a guaranteed cure for the majority of diseases have yet to be discovered. Keeping in mind the mental state of the family and the patient, assisted suicide as a practice gives the right to die on one’s own terms, without succumbing to the loss of one’s physical and mental capacities.
Guarantees such as a living will consideration of the patient’s health care wishes and oversight of health care providers can pave the way for the legalization of assisted suicide. On the other hand, active euthanasia is still debatable because it gives access to excessive power in the hands of the doctor, and offers less autonomy to the patient.
Many people want to live to be 103 or more. But imagine, would you, given that you have grown old, are completely dependent on your family and your medication, and suffer excruciatingly as you age? As terrifying as it sounds, people all over the world still don’t have the right to die by their will. If constitutions guarantee citizens’ right to life, why not their right to die?
Can assisted suicide be considered simply as the right of a suffering person to die with dignity?
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