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Euthanasia : To Live or Not To Live

We’re given the free will to live our lives, make our own decisions on what career we want to pursue or who we wish to marry. However, the same isn’t true when it comes to our right to die. Death : the epilogue of life, should be as peaceful as possible. Yet many aren’t able to exercise this basic right. This rightly makes the practice of euthanasia extremely controversial, and this is an argument that’s been going around for decades without reaching any definite conclusion. The word 'euthanasia' itself means to have a ‘good death’- derived from the two Greek words ‘eu’ and ‘thanotos’. Euthanasia is the act of relieving any individual from intense suffering , be it an incurable disease, intolerable pain or any other reason where death is inevitable and is only prolonging the agony. It allows them to die with dignity and autonomy, to have the right to die and end a life which creates more suffering than pleasure. There are several kinds of euthanasia, some of which are legal in certain countries.

Passive euthanasia is the act of causing death by omissions, it might be via withdrawing or withholding life support, which is essential for survival. It also includes refusing treatment to reduce the magnitude of the ailment.

Active euthanasia includes administering an injection or drug like morphine in large quantity causing death. Voluntary euthanasia is when the consent comes directly from the patient while non voluntary euthanasia is the decision that is often taken by the physician or the patient's family . This majorly happens when a patient is in a vegetative state, or is a child or a person with low intelligence levels and is therefore not capable of taking a call himself.

Involuntary euthanasia occurs when, a willing person isnt allowed to live, due to refusal of medical treatment, or any such reason. Involuntary euthanasia is illegal throughout the world.

The history of euthanasia lies the T4-program initiated by the Nazis, wherein any individual, whose life wasconsidered worthless or burden on the society was euthanized. This incorporated the physically and mentally unstable, the elderly, and the mentally distraught as they were deemed to be burdensome lives or useless eaters. This was carried out under the pretext of wartime measures, which took approximately 70,000 lives. After World War 2, preventative measures were undertaken, which banned euthanasia across all countries. The T4 movement installed a fear of euthanasia among various countries since it can be easily exploitated and this fear still prevails.

Although euthanasia is certainly beneficial to many, giving us the assurance that when in immense suffering, we have the choice to die with dignity, we can’t simply rule out the unavoidable ethical, religious, social and human constraints that accompany euthanasia.

One of the concerns that is widely discussed is that euthanasia can lessen the value of life. It would create a perception that some lives aren’t worthy of living such as those of the elderly, physically handicapped or those with mental illnesses. This builds pressure on them to resort to euthanasia because of the perception that they are a burden to the society and therefore their lives don’t hold much value. When in reality, all lives are precious.

The slippery slope effect that might be the result of euthanasia, often withholds societies from adopting it. Slippery slope is when an action that is seemingly harmless in the present, might lead to a disastrous trend in the future. Permitting euthanasia for the terminally ill, might forward this accessibility to the mentally ill, furthering it to children and so on, continuing in an endless cycle. And it's not a baseless argument either, with the evidence that has been seen in Belgium. Initially, euthanasia, which begun with hardly few people indulging in it, has now gone up to approximately 5 people being euthanized each day . Another example could be of Netherlands, the first country to legalize it, although only permitting euthanasia for those with a terminal sickness. However, it has now started allowing euthanasia for anyone who is tired of life, with no age limit.

Euthanasia could even act as an incentive for the government to lower the medical expenses. Due to euthanasia, instead of caring for the sick, the government might take undue advantage of them and try to euthanize them by providing inferior quality of palliative care.

Despite these concerns, a large majority of people are in support of euthanasia. The efforts of many people like Dr. Jack Kervokian, popularly known as the Death Machine, has contributed to the idea that death should be merciful, having dignity. With 7 out of 10 Americans in favour of euthanasia, people are becoming more open to the idea that death should be a choice, changing the perspective about dying with dignity. They are also getting accustomed to the notion that the government shouldn’t have a say in the death of an individual, a decision solely dependent on the physician and patient. This awareness was brought about due to the Terri Schiavo case. Terri Schiavo: a severely brain damaged woman had been in a permanently vegetative state since 1990. Her husband believed that Terri would not have wanted to live like this and asked the government to allow euthanizing her. This all led to the government appointing a panel of doctors who assessed her case, without even having visited her. And this created an uproar throughout America, where the entire nation started introspecting whether the government has any say in the matters related to euthanasia.

While the world is progressing in its idea of euthanasia, India also legalised passive euthanasia in 2018. The Aruna Shaunbaugh plea played a major role in influencing this decision. She was in a permanently vegetative state for 42 years and would be fed through tubes. This led to Pinki Virani pleading to the supreme court to stop feeding her through the tubes and provide her with a peaceful death. This initiated conversations in India about euthanasia and Indian citizens began to question and introspect on their right to death.

Presently along with India, euthanasia is greatly supported in Europe with Netherlands being the first country to legalise euthanasia in 2002. Australia, Canada, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium are in support as well, and have passed euthanasia laws. However, Switzerland has always been and continues to be on the forefront about euthanasia.

Switzerland has been affirmative about euthanasia, and probably the reason thousands of foreigners from around the globe travel there to access the assisted dying law. This has given rise to the phenomenon of ‘Suicide Tourism’. Having suicide organisations like 'Exit' and 'Dignitas' encourage people to come to Switzerland. Around 1300 people travelled to Switzerland in 2020 to take advantage of the euthanasia laws, which are often illegal in their own countries.

Along with this, Switzerland recently came with a suicide capsule called 'Sarco Pod', developed by Philip Nitschke, popularly known as Dr. death, the founder of the suicide organization, 'Exit'. The capsule causes death in the blink of an eye, with patients required to press only one button. The Sarco Pod isn’t the only innovative idea, the 'Euthanasia Coaster' is a work of art designed by 'Julijonas Urbonas'. He called it the 'hypothetical death', which would cause death by riding the coaster.

Whether euthanasia should be legal or not, does it cause certain ethical, religious constraints? Do we have the liberty to decide when to die, or is it beyond our decision? These are ononging questions, creating never ending discussions and arguments, with some having no singular straightforward answer. However, according to me, it should be completely left to the personal choice with limited political interference. To live is a choice, so to die should also be a choice.

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