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L.Srikumar Pai
B.Sc( Engg.), MIE, MIWWA, MICI
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Sunilkumar Ravi: Gentle breeze was blowing to the room and the window curtains were moving. Occasionally the flashing of a search light visited the room. It was a neatly arranged bedroom.  In the low voltage light we could see his face, peaceful with determination written all over it. He was surrounded by his friends, relatives and well-wishers. He made an attempt to see everyone’s face. Some of them were carrying flowers. His eyes glittered and conveyed his gratitude to everyone. His dearest friend brought in a glass of water with a straw in it. The tip of the straw was close to his mouth. One by one the people in the room said their goodbyes and left the room. Now he was alone. He turned his head towards the straw. Slowly, he drank the water. He could feel his throat drying up, he tried to say something, but could not find his tongue. Slowly but firmly, his heart stopped.

Ramon Sampedro was a Spanish sailor and fisherman, who became a quadriplegic in a diving accident at the age of 25. He fought for his right to assisted suicide for the next 29 years. His argument was that the doctors had confirmed that he was terminally ill, would never recover from it. He argued that it is his right to die in such circumstances. Since he was physically unable to commit suicide without help from others, he sought assistance to end his life. For years, he fought unsuccessfully in the courts to be helped to die and even wrote a book about it, using his teeth to hold the pen. The Court of Justice in Spain denied his request. Sampedro died in January 1998 from potassium cyanide poisoning. He ended his life with the help of friends. A close friend was arrested in connection with his death but later released due to lack of evidence.

This is only an example. There are thousands of people suffering for years, from incurable diseases, labeled as terminally ill. Can we allow them to undergo euthanasia?

Today I am not here to advocate euthanasia. Let me make it clear that I am not encouraging assisted suicide.  But knowing that a fellow human being is suffering, we have to think of ways in which we can support him. Analyzing his or her family’s capacity, an individual or the society can offer various help. But the question is, for how long? Is it really going to reduce the suffering of the person?

Certain European countries, euthanasia is permitted by law. In Ireland, there is an organization that assists people in ending their life, upholding their right to die. It is found that many terminally ill people travel to such countries for the purpose. Critics term this as suicide tourism.

Let me share a true story with you. This October, a certain Mr Thomas, aged 39 passed away. He was a software engineer hailing from a very poor family. His father was an ordinary labourer, mother a housewife. There were two children younger to him. Throughout his childhood and youth, he struggled very much, due to lack of basic facilities. But he was a very bright child, and did very well in his studies. After taking his bachelor’s degree, he scored first rank in entrance exams to a Master’s degree in computers at the National Institute of Technology, Calicut. He studied there with the help of a scholarship, which was not enough to cover his expenses. But he was a very proud young man and did not allow anyone to know his problems. When friends found out that he was on and off the mess rolls, he admitted that he was living on black tea and bananas since he did not have enough money. He politely refused all help that was offered. He took his Masters degree with flying colours and later on went to the US. He then supported his family and they were able to lead a better life. But ill fate pursued him. He was diagnosed with a chronic lung disease. Doctors felt that the disease was the result of some lung infection not treated properly in his childhood. They also confirmed that his disease was progressive and had no cure. By 2004, his disease had become so severe, that he was forced to leave his job and return to Kerala. He underwent various treatments for about 5 years, not letting anyone know of his conditions. His life was a struggle again, physically and financially. When he was totally broke, he swallowed his pride and called his friends. Friends pooled in, but still could not support enough. He started losing his memory and went into coma twice. He refused to eat food, thinking that it was aggravating his breathing problems. In the middle of this October, he was admitted in the hospital again. But 2 days later, he forcefully took discharge from the hospital and went to his rented home, with his aged mother and a helper. Next morning, he was found dead. Doctor suspects that he may have ended it by himself or was assisted.

The question that arises is; can we take a life, even if it is to end the suffering of a human being? Let us take a look at the story of an American teenager Sarah, who fell into a coma in 1985 at the age of 18, after being run over by a drunk driver. Doctors declared that recovery was impossible, and for 20 years she slept, until 2005, when something incredible happened – Sarah spoke. Nobody who had been in a coma-like state for so long had ever started speaking again.

Another case is of an English woman Shana, who fell into a coma after a car accident. Doctors told her parents that she would never recover and that they should consider withdrawing life support, but after 23 days she awoke – beginning a ten-year struggle for recovery.

To conclude,  I certainly would say that the question of euthanasia is a debatable one. Should someone dear to you be allowed euthanasia or not? Is that the way that we can stop him from suffering? Can we safely say that a person in coma and on life support will never return back to normal life? Do we have a right to die? Is it in our hands? These are questions that should be discussed by all humans. I take leave of you with such a question in your minds.

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