Published on: March 22, 2010

It is amazing, how the idea of mercy killing grabs the attention of the media and the public.

The Hindu: No mercy killing, this

Most of the time, the discussion is superficial and confusing. Not many seem to see the significance of the need for palliative care in this context – as a viable alternative to euthanasia.

How can any civilized society even think about euthanasia when it has not provided basic pain relief or palliative care to its citizens?!

For all practical purposes we seem to be saying, “Oh, it is too much of a bother to give you pain relief. Let us consider killing you instead.”

Hence, it was refreshingly different to read the article in The Hindu by V Sureshpenny Vera-Sanso entitled “No mercy-killing, this.

Palliative care is the humane and viable alternative to euthanasia in the vast majority of people and the author proclaims that,

The relief of suffering through palliative care is now seen as a basic human right.

However the author seems to be under the mistaken notion palliative care is available to the affluent.

There is very little “private palliative care” going on in India. Only a negligible number of private hospitals have quality palliative care rendered by professionals with any training. Most of meaningful palliative care in the country is provided by Non-Government Organizations.

The Indian Association of Palliative Care has moved the Supreme Court of India praying for:

  • integration of palliative care into routine health care by Central and State Governments
  • simplification of narcotic regulations in the country for rational access to pain relieving medication
  • for inclusion of palliative care in medical and nursing curricula

Please leave your comments and thoughts on this subject below.

Also in the Hindu: To die, to sleep no more

One response to “Defining Mercy”

  1. Indira Ballal says:

    I am reminded of a lesson I had while studying in upper primary school which narrated a story based on a practice in China or was it Japan, I don’t exactly remember. In that village, once an elderly person reaches a certain age, he is carried to the forests and left there to perish. Although I can’t recollect the entire story, I still vividly recollect the picture that accompanied this….an old man being carried on the shoulders of a younger man, probably his son , towards a backdrop of hills and forests.

    What struck me about the picture was the body language of both the elderly man and the younger one. It seemed like the most natural thing to do…acceptance, lack of any struggle in both of them.

    Yes, if it is a choice of complete acceptance and free will, this is an act of maturity and wisdom. Every living creature around us lives this way, except man. When a body can no longer keep itself alive on natural means, it accepts death.. Man is the only creature who interferes with and intervenes in nature to preserve and extend his life or that of other creatures useful to him.

    As an abstract philosophy, this is the most enlightened way to live…if you are not fit enough to survive, perish.

    But, pragmatic though the arguments are, I feel very uncomfortable with the attitude of the writer. By this argument of using resources for those who will most benefit, along with the “useless elderly”, we have to club a whole lot of other “unproductive” people as elements to be got rid of. What about people who are so mentally and physically challenged that they require considerable resources to be looked after and are of no “practical use” to society? Do we “thalaikoothal” them?

    I have read about baby girls being “got rid of” in various ways similar to the thalaikoothal rituals.

    I feel it is dangerous to mix up palliative care with euthanasia; even, to talk of both these options in the same breath is to tread on shifting sands.

    The concept of palliative care is not familiar to many people. The availability is also very limited. Those who advocate palliative care and try to promote it should just stick to their turf…talk about its positives…showcase it as a humane, sensible and economical way to live with dignity when there is no more hope for cure or recovery .

    Taking a decision to stop aggressive treatment is difficult enough for most people due to various emotional and ethical reasons. Euthanasia is a subject fraught with graver ethical concerns. Personally, I’m a strong advocate of euthanasia. But, I think it is still too early for palliative care advocates to tango with those who fight for the right of euthanasia…it sends the wrong signal.