Whose life is it anyway

Posted: May 12, 2010 in life
Tags: , ,

Reading Sowmya’s thoughts on Francis Inglis’s case reminded me of my own thoughts on euthanasia. I thought about this subject, quite a bit, when I watched the movie ‘Whose life is it anyway’, a while ago. This movie explores the subject of euthanasia from the perspective of an accident survivor who becomes quadriplegic. He is so severely injured that he had to be on life support system for the rest of his life. He decides that it’s too painful to lead such a life and it’s not worth living. He seeks permission for euthanasia but the head of the hospital where he is being treated strongly opposes this. Watching this movie made me think how fragile life is. When it comes to individual rights, does one have the right to die? Is there an objective way to determine if one’s life is too miserable and is not worth living? I personally believe in individual freedom. In extreme cases where a person has no hope of living outside the ICU, if that person seeks euthanasia, I think it should be granted. Of course it should be ensured that the person is not resorting to this option purely out of depression.

Frances Inglis’s case is more complicated because her son who had severe head injuries couldn’t communicate. How can one be sure that euthanasia is what he would have preferred? May be he wanted to fight for his life, or may be his mother was right and it was too painful for him, and he wanted the easier route of death. We have really no way of knowing. While I strongly empathize with her emotions, I think she acted a bit prematurely under the circumstances. I can see that she ‘acted out of love’. She also knew that she would have to face the consequences of her action, which is a crime according to the law of the land. That makes her act courageous and heroic. But still I’m not sure if she is completely in the right here. For one, we don’t know what her son would have wanted. And also it seems that the doctors treating him had a hopeful prognosis. It would have been much better if there was a way she could have sought euthanasia for her son legally.

Coming to the point as to why the court found her guilty while the society at large seems to support her, courts are generally interpreters of the law; If someone is punishable according to the prevailing laws, that’s what the courts would do, even if people’s opinion at large is different. In such cases the best that the courts can do is to hand out the most lenient punishment allowed under law. Also, most countries have a provision where government can nullify such verdicts; these provisions are especially useful when people’s opinions are at odds with the law of the land. And of course, eventually the law has to be amended appropriately in such situations. I think there are many cases which led to a change in the law. One particular case that comes to mind is a case that I came across while reading Richard Branson’s autobiography. When Richard was running ‘Student advisory centre’, he puts up advertisements offering help to people with VDs. He gets arrested under ‘Indecent Advertisements Act’ for mentioning VD. The judge who presided over the trial, reluctantly penalizes him with a small fine. Eventually the UK parliament amends this ‘Indecent Advertisements Act’, allowing people to mention VD in advertisements.

Two relevant links from my browsing history:
This Guardian story on how zolpidem, a sleep inducing drug, is helping brain damaged patients come back to life.

In a breakthrough, doctors communicate with ‘vegetative’ patients through brainwaves. On top of all the other benefits, I think this technology can possibly allow patients in these extreme conditions to request for euthanasia by making their preference known.


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