On Thursday, California became the fourth state in the US to allow assisted suicide, following Oregon, Washington and Vermont. A few countries in Europe too allow assisted suicide. Coincidentally, Moneylife Foundation organised a discussion on the right to die with dignity, living will and euthanasia in its Knowledge Centre at Dadar, Mumbai today. In India euthanasia is illegal and is classified as murder. Living will is not recognised. Indeed, a pending bill on these issues has clear provisions asking doctors not to take cognisance of living will and medical power of attorney given to a doctor to put one to death. However, there are complex issues involved and it is not easy to take sides on this issue. Moneylife Foundation which takes up many citizen’s issues, invited Dr Suren Dhelia, a senior physician practising in South Mumbai and the Joint Secretary of Society for Right to Die with Dignity, and RN Bhaskar, a senior journalist, who has worked with several leading business papers and magazines to discuss this issue.
Bhaskar who is, or has been, a Consulting Editor with Free Press Journal and Forbes India, DNA, Business India and others, opened the discussion with a short presentation on the case of Aruna Shanbaug who was in a state of permanent vegetative state (PVS) after being raped and assaulted by a ward boy at Mumbai’s KEM Hospital. He explained how this case focused the country’s attention on the issue of euthanasia as it was debated and discussed all the way up to the Supreme Court, which eventually turned down a petition to let Ms Shanbaug die. Bhaskar explained the many dimensions of the issue that Supreme Court went into. Interestingly, the apex court hinted at the fact that had Ms Shanbaug had a living will expressing her preference to die in case she was in a PVS, the court might have considered it.
Dr Dhelia explained the many terms associated with the topics and the international scenario. He offered several strong ethical, philosophical and medical reasons why India must recognise doctor-assisted death, living will and medical power of attorney. The session ended with questions and answers from a packed audience, eager to know the ramifications of the issues.