Interpretation: a confounding factor
With reference to the article “Passive euthanasia in India: a critique”, authored by Ms Rohini Shukla and published online on August 5, 2015, I would like to make a few comments and highlight the following points. First, the author notes that Section 309 IPC has been decriminalised. This is not so since there has neither been any amendment to the IPC, nor has any ordinance been passed regarding the matter. Attempting suicide is still an offence in India. Second, the author observes that withholding life support is an act of omission and withdrawing life support is an act of commission and the terms have been used interchangeably by the Hon’ble Court, although there is a subtle difference between the two terms. With reference to the author’s view, can we not debate that inaction is also a kind of action, especially when it takes place with a knowledge of the consequences that can ensue? Third, The Hon’ble Court has mentioned the “low level of ethical standards to which our society has descended, its raw and widespread commercialisation, and the rampant corruption”. It is no secret that the moral standards in society have deteriorated. This observation was made in the context of the possibility of the misuse of the law to permit euthanasia in Indian society. Whether or not a doctor should be allowed to choose the means of ameliorating the suffering of his/her patients can open a pandora’s box and I believe that was the reason why the court refrained from commenting on the same. Fourth, the court has appreciated the effort of the staff of KEM hospital and the love and care shown by it to the patient, Ms Aruna Shanbaug. This was done to highlight that the staff members were the next best family available for Ms Aruna Shanbaug and that their opinion had to be considered since the victim could not express her wishes. Whether the life of Aruna Shanbaug was actually “so miserable as to not be worth living” was for her to tell and is not for us to interpret. Interpretation is one of the biggest confounding factors that leads to ethical dilemmas, hindering clear directions on euthanasia.
Mohit Gupta ([email protected]), Assistant Professor, VMMC and Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi 110 029