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Euthanasia: The Indian culture always had reference about it
As per a Times of India report, the Supreme Court on Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 'decided to adjudicate the legality of active and passive euthanasia and emerging concept of living will'. It has asked the states to express their wise opinions within almost 8 weeks since the day sought.

This has sparked a debate within intellectual community in India and many among them say that Indian laws are based on Anglo-Saxon judicial system and Western jurisprudence. According to them in ancient Hindu civilization voluntary death was permitted. They point out that in the epic Mahabharata, its heroes and heroin Pandavas and Draupadi gave up the kingdom and embarked upon the mahaprasthana; the great departure. The notion of Kashi yatra and practice of Samadhi and Nirvana were also prevalent in ancient Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist civilizations and they still are but to far lesser extent. Few among them try it even today for higher purposes.

True, that the heroes of the epic Mahabharata abandoned their kingdom but in search of salvation. They were not terminally ill or bedridden to demand euthanasia from others. Renunciation and asceticism was preached by their guru and guide Krishna. The tradition of going to forest to seek salvation was once very popular in India, particularly in its Northern parts.

Kashi yatra is an old religious practice as it is mentioned in many Hindu texts that dying near around the Ganges helps absolve all the sins of life and leads to Nirvana. It let the believers get rid of constant cycles of life and birth, as per many beliefs. Samadhi and Nirvana are also not a form of seeking euthanasia as they depend on self-acts. As per medical vocabulary, active euthanasia would involve a doctor injecting a lethal medicine to trigger a cardiac arrest while in passive euthanasia, doctors, with consent from kin, withdraw life support system.

Neither of the practices mentioned in ancient texts are anyway close to mercy killing. The people opting for Samadhi and Nirvana are rare and they get a lot of fame, if and when they try, more so, when they are successful. Only handful of very able people can try it in modern times. True, many ancient Hindu texts mention many means to end life by conscious choice but most of them should be considered negative acts and a form of corruption towards the subjects.

I will give final argument about why euthanasia just cannot be an Indian concept. I quote one of the most outstanding contemporary Indian Physicists, Jayant V Narlikar, from his Op-Ed piece titled, 'Where time stands still' published in the Times of India on 10 November, 2007. He wrote about the precedence of time dilations before Einstein much celebrated theories of relativity. He wrote:

"Indian mythology has this story about king Kukudmi who had a beautiful daughter Revati with many eligible suitors. In a dilemma over how to choose the right husband for her, Kukudmi took her to see no less a person than the creator Brahma himself. Brahma was involved in some work at the time and told Kukudmi to 'wait a second' till he could attend to him.

Kukudmi waited and when Brahma made himself available, presented his problem to him. Brahma laughed. "Your brief wait here has meant that several eons have elapsed on the Earth. So all those prospective husbands for Revati are no more". He advised Kukudmi to get back to Earth and marry his daughter to Balarama, the brother of Krishna."

Great thoughts, but I will politely remind that a second of one planet supporting human and human-like life just cannot be an eon for another planet supporting the same. There cannot be more than one or two ordered time dilations among human life-supporting planets. Brahma was obviously not residing in Black Holes. While ancient Hindus had great thoughts they never had proper measures. Therefore, they could not translate their thoughts in to meaningful theories though the mention of time dilation is laudable. For the same reason euthanasia cannot be an Indian context even if there is any passing reference to such practice somewhere in Hindu texts. 

Before discussing the matter further let's see what Manusmrti mentions about salvation:

'After he has lived in the householder's stage of life in accordance with the rules in this way, a twice-born Vedic graduate should live in the forest, properly restrained and with his sensory power conquered. But when a householder sees that he is wrinkled and grey, and (when he sees) the children of his children, then he should take himself to the wilderness. ? Or he should set out in a north-easterly direction and walk straight forward, diligently engaged in eating nothing but water and air, until his body collapses. A priest who has abandoned his body by any one of those practices of the great sages, without sorrow or fear, is exalted in the world of ultimate reality.

And when he has spent the third part of his lifespan in the forests in this way, he may abandon all attachments and wander as an ascetic for the fourth part of his lifespan. A man who has gone from one stage of life to another, made the offerings into the fire, conquered his sensory powers, exhausted himself by giving alms and propitiatory offerings, and then lived as a wandering ascetic?when he has died, he thrives.'

The laws of Manu, Chapter 6, Verses 1-2 and 31-34, Translated by Wendy Doniger

All should know that it is gender-specific; not applicable to females and transgender. But salvation is caste-specific as well, as per Manu. Let's see how:

'Now I will tell you, in a nutshell and in order, the transmigrations in this whole (Universe) that one achieves by each of these qualities: people of lucidity (light) become gods, people of energy (fire) become humans, and people of darkness always become animals; this is the three-fold level of existence. But it should be realized that this three-fold level of existence, which is dependent on the qualities, is itself three-fold: lowest, middle and highest, according to the specific act and learning (of the actor).'

The laws of Manu, Chapter 12, Verses 39-41, Translated by Wendy Doniger

Okay this should be enough. Mind you, I am not criticizing Hinduism as I hardly criticize any majority and its beliefs; I am just explaining the complexity in Hinduism. Hinduism is mostly a positive religion and I can never criticize its age-old caste system, except saying that many people were discriminated, knowing its importance and relevance for Indian society.

However, it is indeed very difficult to see how euthanasia is derived from Hindu texts. Also, to say Indian laws are based on Anglo-Saxon background is totally incorrect. Indian laws are Asian in nature and mostly archaic by modern Western standards. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) though was promulgated by British people during the colonial rule but it is fully adapted to Indian brains and bodies. Indians, generally speaking, are mostly comfortable with it. And this is true about all demographic constituents of Indian society, including Hindus and Muslims. The IPC just cannot be Western or more narrowly Anglican in nature.

Therefore, let's not make references to ancient texts. The fact is that like all humans should have right to live a dignified life so should they have right to claim dignified death. When medical experts have concluded that a bedridden terminally ill person cannot be cured and that he and she, since the time of final medical conclusions, have long lives, though very difficult and discouraging ones, then those persons and even his and her family can seek mercy killing. That option should be there with the consent of his and her family, no matter what are the sources of those laws which would permit it.  

I think in all honesty that legalization of euthanasia would not increase demand for it or for that matter rates of suicide. For many of us, indeed, accepting it could be like facing a moral dilemma but for most of the bedridden terminally ill patients it would be huge relief from the acute pain and otherwise unending human sufferings. Even though the concept of euthanasia is Western one it should be accepted in India. Like others, many imports are good for India.

The pretext of culture is misleading though. But sure, the apex court and the national lawmakers should ascertain that such laws are not abused and misused and definitely never for omitting witnesses in high profile cases. Euthanasia should not be given against the wishes of patients, if they or their families or both are able to support the treatment. It should be fully consensual in nature from all sides though state and its various organs should not have frequent say over the matter once mercy killing is accepted and legalized in India.    

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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