Killing them softly

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on March 12, 2018

Belgium has introduced a sensible law on euthanasia. But India is not ready for this just yet

In a radical move, lawmakers in Belgium have decided to allow all children suffering from terminal disease to end their life with the assistance of a doctor. As expected, the amendment to the country’s 2002 euthanasia law has stirred an uproar, with religious groups and a few doctors’ associations vehemently opposing the law.

The law is a first in the world. In fact, the Netherlands too allows child euthanasia, but with an age cap of 12 years and upwards. Belgium’s euthanasia law for adults enjoys immense popular support, surveys suggest.

Those who oppose the current move say there is no foolproof system or method to know whether a child wants to end her or his life. And in many situations this can lead to errors of judgement and homicide. Belgium boasts of an impressive palliative care ecosystem, so, critics ask, why go for mercy killing?

But reason, not emotion or moral positions, should prevail in this debate. Several doctors have talked about examples of terminally ill children staying in coma for months, causing enormous pain and frustration to patients and their families alike. A medically assisted death would be the best gift a progressive and responsible society could offer such human beings.

Needless to say, such measures should follow strict procedures. Every possible effort should be made to understand the will of the patient, her/his family and relatives, and the medical professionals attending the patient.

But should India be going the Belgium way? The answer is no. Unlike Belgium or other developed countries with efficient healthcare systems, India’s healthcare is a mess. Even potentially curable conditions may be passed off as terminal illness.

Given the context of prejudice against the girl child, euthanasia becomes open to misuse. Add to this a range of obscurantist practices, such as human sacrifice, rearing their ugly heads.

Assisted death would be the culmination of a long period of contemplation and suffering. There’s no escaping that to free oneself from future guilt. Clearly, India lacks the medical and legal systems to be trusted with such a responsible action.

Belgium’s initiative is reasoned — not morbid.

Assistant Editor

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Published on February 21, 2014
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