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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Govt against mercy killing, AG tells SC

The Centre has rejected the Law Commission's recommendation to allow terminally ill patients to choose death to end their suffering, attorney general G E Vahanvati told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Opposing an euthanasia plea on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug, who has been in a vegetative state at KEM Hospital for 37 years, Vahanvati said western parameters seldom applied to Indian conditions and culture. "We do not lead our terminally ill parents or kids to death. Who decides if one should live or die? Who knows tomorrow there might be a cure to a medical state perceived as incurable today. And won't leading the terminally ill impede pro-life medical research?" he argued . The SC will give its verdict on Monday.
Euthanasia—"good death" in ancient Greek but popularly known as mercy killing—has been a taboo word in India, but allowed in the West. In its 126th report, the commission had recommended, "If a person is unable to take normal care of his body or has lost all senses and if his real desire is to quit the world, he cannot be compelled to continue with a painful life."
The commission said in such cases, it would be cruel not to permit a person to die. "Hence, a dying man who is terminally ill or is in persistent vegetative state can be permitted to terminate it by premature extinction of life."
The AG disagreed and said India was a country where people were poorer but more emotional than their western counterparts. He also said euthanasia was fraught with danger as relatives could seek the death of a person to grab his property. He suggested that if relatives did not have the means to pay for a patient's treatment, the government must step in.
Agreeing with Vahanvati's apprehension, the bench quoted Shakespeare from Macbeth—"nearer, the bloodier". With social relationships eroding, people could misuse euthanasia in collusion with doctors, it said.
Amicus curiae and senior advocate T R Andhyarujina appreciated the efforts of lawyer Pinky Virani in bringing the euthanasia plea to court, but said the nurses and staff of KEM Hospital who have been taking care of Aruna were the right people to talk about it. "And they have made no such plea," he said.
The bench said, "We respect Virani's efforts. The nurses and staff of the hospital took amazing care of her for 37 years, so much so that she does not even have a single bed sore."
The hospital's counsel, senior advocate Pallav Shisodia, said the nurses and staff really loved Aruna and since they had not made such a plea, the court should dismiss Virani's petition and not decide any academic issue relating to euthanasia. "Euthanasia must be debated in public and Parliament and the court should not decide the sensitive issue by hearing five or six counsels," he said.
An expert panel comprising Dr J V Divatia, Dr Roop Gursahani and Dr Nilesh Shah, all of whom were present on Thursday, had examined 60-year-old Aruna and given two reports to the court, agreeing about her permanent vegetative state. But they had said she liked fish and chicken soup, calmed down while listening to devotional music and disliked crowding in her hospital room. "She accepts food in normal course and responds by facial expressions. She responds to commands intermittently by making sounds. She makes sounds when she has to pass stool and urine, which the nursing staff identifies and attends to by leading her to the toilet," the panel had said.

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