Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is mercy killing merciless?

A recent act of a father who put his comatose daughter to sleep has caused a public outrage in Italy. Eluana Englaro, a 38 year old woman, had been in a persistent vegetative state since a car accident in 1992. Her father fought repeatedly in court for the right to end her life and it wasn’t until yesterday, she finally died at a private clinic after a high court ruled in favour of his wish. Euthanasia is illegal in Italy, a country which is pre-dominantly Catholic.

Euthanasia has always been a point of contention between two factions; those who are pro-life and then the others who are pro-choice. Putting aside religious point of view, I can see why euthanasia is not a clear-cut issue; mainly because it can be opened to abuse. Take for example, a wife of a rich man may initiate euthanasia on her comatose husband too quickly in order to claim her inheritance. On the other hand, miracles do happen where you have a person who simply wakes up after years of being fed by a tube.

Having said this, what if the person is 80 years old and you have the whole family who cannot afford to keep him hospitalised for long? Do you sacrifice the livelihood of those who are still young and healthy to keep one who has lived his life? What about if someone who is suffering from a terminal illness and asked to be terminated? Do you choose life over the quality of life?

I think there is no straight answer as to whether euthanasia is morally right or wrong. It is irrational for a judge, religious authorities or the public to make such a decision for anyone in that situation. Unless you have someone you love who are left in a vegetative state or in extreme constant pain, can you begin to understand the issues which revolve around making such decision. If there is no malice in such a case, I think we need to try to understand the burden of those who have to make and take that decision.

Not too long ago, I had to make that decision when my 15 year-old pet dog was badly injured in a fight. Being in an under-developed country, nothing much could be done by the vet. Watching her suffer in pain was too  much to bear and it took me some time to make the decision to end her suffering. Even though it was a dog, it filled me with a lot of sadness and above all guilt by putting her life in my hands. So, I can imagine how much more painful it must be for those who have to do the same for a human being. I don’t think it is fair for others to judge and condemn the people who have to bear this kind of burden. It is always easy to  criticise and blame others when you are not in that position.

Eluada’s father had to endure watching her daughter being reduced to a lifeless body for 17 years. Do we know what he had to deal with during this period of time? Do we know how he felt?

To me, Eluada is not the only victim here.

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