Friday, July 18, 2014

Freedom to Die



Arthur Koestler (1905-1983) committed suicide.  His wife too committed suicide on the same day.

Koestler was a great writer.  Parkinson’s disease and leukaemia enervated his spirits.  Below is an extract from the suicide note he wrote.

Trying to commit suicide is a gamble the outcome of which will be known to the gambler only if the attempt fails, but not if it succeeds. Should this attempt fail and I survive it in a physically or mentally impaired state, in which I can no longer control what is done to me, or communicate my wishes, I hereby request that I be allowed to die in my own home and not be resuscitated or kept alive by artificial means.

My reasons for deciding to put an end to my life are simple and compelling: Parkinson's disease and the slow-killing variety of leukaemia (CCI). I kept the latter a secret even from intimate friends to save them distress. After a more or less steady physical decline over the last years, the process has now reached an acute state with added complications which make it advisable to seek self-deliverance now, before I become incapable of making the necessary arrangements.

Cynthia, Koestler’s wife, added her own note below her husband’s:

I fear both death and the act of dying that lies ahead of us. I should have liked to finish my account of working for Arthur – a story which began when our paths happened to cross in 1949. However, I cannot live without Arthur, despite certain inner resources.

Double suicide has never appealed to me, but now Arthur's incurable diseases have reached a stage where there is nothing else to do.

The Supreme Court of India is contemplating legalisation of passive euthanasia.

Hastening the death of a person by altering some form of support and letting nature take its course is known as passive euthanasia. Examples include such things as turning off respirators, halting medications, discontinuing food and water so as to allowing a person to dehydrate or starve to death, or failure to resuscitate.

Active euthanasia involves causing the death of a person through a direct action, in response to a request from that person.

What Koestler and his wife chose was active euthanasia.  What the Supreme Court of India seeks to usher in is passive euthanasia.  I personally advocate the legalisation of both the types but with the necessary conditions and restrictions.

Life is to be relished not suffered.  If a person comes to the situation that Koestler found himself in, why not let him die provided he chooses death with full knowledge of what he is doing?  It would be an act of kindness to let him die.  Why not be kind?

However, I have never understood why Cynthia Koestler had to die on the same day.  She was just 55 and not suffering from any fatal illness. Koestler was an eccentric man especially where his relationships with women were concerned.  Did he impose his will on Cynthia?  Did he want her to die with him?  Cynthia’s note almost implies that.

I won’t ever support the kind of euthanasia that anyone forces on anyone else.  Cynthia has the right to live if she so chooses as much as Arthur has the right to die if he so chooses. 

Choice, that’s what I advocate.  People should be allowed to live or die as long as they are sane enough to make the choice. 

One of the paradoxes of human life that I have always failed to understand is this: we have no qualms about killing hundreds or thousands of people in acts of violence such as communal riots, political wars, and terrorist attacks.  Millions and millions of people have died in such acts perpetrated by man.  And yet, when a sane person desires to bid good bye to something he cannot value any more, something that has become an unbearable pain to him, why not let him go?

I am a staunch advocate of euthanasia.  Not just passive euthanasia.  I would like to choose my own death when the time comes.  



28 comments:

  1. I second your views, I truly feel that terminally ill people should have the right to end their suffering in a quick, dignified, and compassionate way.

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  2. Active Euthanasia is called suicide and that is not permitted perhaps because they say it is only God's right to take life. But yes, it is indeed compelling to think why one cannot take his or her own life if they so choose. After all, God has given us free will, right?

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    1. Brendan, I don't believe in God and so that argument doesn't hold good for me. I like your question: why can't a person choose to end his / her life at any time? Even if he/she is in perfect health?

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  3. There are side effects of every law, especially when it's India. But death by one's own sane will is something I would also support. However, the side effects must be regulated.

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    1. The "side effects" are a genuine concern, I understand, Namrata, especially in a country like ours where every law is misused. However, genuine cases should not suffer because of the misuse of the law by certain lumpen elements.

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  4. I agree with you. If someone is in a condition where life is worse than death, they should not be forced to live and given a choice to die. It is inhuman and cruel to keep them alive in that condition if they are in such a horrible situation.

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    1. Death is a relief to many people when they are beyond hope. We should let them avail of that relief.

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  5. Passive euthanasia to end one's sufferings, when there is no hope of recovery is something which needs a serious thought by the Government. But as Namrata said, there are side effects of every law. It might be misused by greedy persons to let a person die without proper medications.

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    1. The misuse is a serious concern, I agree, Ratna, as I responded to Namrata's comment above.

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  6. The prowess to reason is not equally shared by al. We liv in a world where majority believe the earth is some 10,000 years old n that appeasing an unseen unknown unknowable entity can bring desirable changes in our life. Point being, there exist a huge segment of society that aint very rational nor reasonal. You really want to giv this section too the right to decide their death? We al hold notions, some less right that other. N hope is, they dont cause irrepairable damage. But with a right to die, if my not-very-right notion consequents my death, I wont hav a chance to remedy. I understand the appeal to freewill. But we need also keep our own fallibility, both in thought n in action, into consideration before making an appeal for the ultimate right.

    That was about right to death.

    But euthanasia is an appeal disjoint. Here, the reason for death is unimaginable suffering n no foreseeable remedy for the same. Active or passive, from an ethical perspective, both amount to the same. Be it an act of commission (active euthanasia), or an act of omission (passive), the onus for the act does fall upon the person commiting's shoulder. Having said that, its human to end suffering, but inhuman to kill. While am amazed at the many commenters' readiness to allow for the cesation of life, I just hav one query. If the consent is given in first person, a person in a state dire enough to seek it, given my experience at hospital, wont be sane enough to make an unbiased informed decision. N if, he makes the decision well in advance, it wont be informed either for he hasnt known the sufering, n if he can bear it. His consent is based on an imagined pain. In nutshell, I dont see a scenario where the person concerned can giv a valid informed unbiases consent.

    Sir, I to accept life is to be relished. But sufferings, despite our best efforts, do become part sometimes.

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    1. Dear Baba,

      I am amazed how Babas keep appearing in my life when I have tried my best to keep away from them! That's my destiny , perhaps. I must add that Babas only boost my desire to choose the time of my death.

      Babas tell a lot of lies. For example, you say that people are not "rational nor reasonal" (sic) [the mysticism of the lingo is beyond me :)] to understand euthanasia. The next moment you're surprised that my readers have endorsed my views in one way or another. I try to enlighten people believing that they have the rational faculty to understand. Babas try to kill the rational faculty of people for reasons well understood by people like me. Ignorance is the foundation of religion.

      What does it matter to anyone if people choose to die? Especially to religious people who are killing people anyway for frivolous reasons? I have seen Babas who kill people in various ingenious ways. Why can't the same Babas let people die if they choose to do so. The simple truth is that religion wants slaves. The kind of ethics preached by Babas is the biggest evil perpetrated on mankind. It destroys the dignity (and divinity, though I don't believe in the kind of divinity that Babas preach) of man.

      Have I gone too far?

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    2. Yogesh,

      Greetings from a fellow Ayn Rand fan!

      As you said, rationality and reason are but sporadic companions for most of us. We rely on them when it suits us and abandon them when the whim takes us.

      However, I am not able to agree with your argument on the issue dealt with in this post. I find myself agreeing with the author of the post although I find his rudeness to you inexplicable- and besides the point. Still, if it please him to win people's censure in this manner... who am I to protest? :)

      No man can decide for another, how much pain he should be willing to bear. To someone who hasn't 'walked a mile in my shoes', my pain will seem light, perhaps. But I've carried the pain for 'a mile'. It has dragged on me, it has decimated me.

      Yes, as you say, I am in a depleted state when I take the decision to opt for a cessation of this torture. But that is the point I was meant to come to, perhaps. If I was meant to have succor, I would have been given it. Since I have not, I must take whatever decision seems best to me 'under the state I am'. To deny me that right is to disrespect my freedom.

      My freedom is not merely to continue life but also to bow out of it when I so choose.

      If you don't wish to continue this discussion here- which I can well believe- you may connect with me through my blog. It will be a pleasure to connect with you.

      Regards,
      Dagny

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  7. Wait. My name is Baba Yogesh. Baba is a pet name my mom added. Am a doctor, rationalist, atheist n a hardcore fan of Ayn Rand. N if it helps in any way, am studying neuroscience at iit. Just cos my name has Baba, doesnt mean am a generic psyched philosophical mumbler that u need discredit for the sole case of Baba. If u hav a valid artument in return, I would be glad to learn from u sir.

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    1. I knew from the beginning you were not the Baba of babas. I knew it's a pseudonym. Knowing that I wrote the comment. Rationalist, you mean. You really mean it? I'm happy your English improved all of a sudden. I know your kind too well, BABAAAAAAAAAAA

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  8. I read through ur comment thrice. Am no proponent of religion as u so juiciy seem intent on having me tagged. N I couldnt draw any valid criticism to any of the points I raised. I though u the blog post was open to censure. Gues, this Baba is not always right. Yet tnx for it was something novel. N novel is good! Goodday sir.

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    1. Your criticism can have no valid answer sir. I'm sorry I happen to be intelligent.

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    2. Just happened to see this comment thread.For someone who writes posts on such mature topics, I was plainly disappointed by your reaction. I am seeing you respond rudely and personally just because there was dissent and also have taken it upon yourself to malign a person just on the basis of their name.Sad. This would be my last comment on your blog.

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    3. This is not at all about dissent, friend. You don't know the reality!

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    4. LOL...here the freedom of speech of readers is strangulated by the author! Eye-opening comment thread.

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    5. This is being misconstrued, Pankti. That's all what I can say now. I'm all for freedom of speech, but not with ulterior motives.

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  9. The case of Arthur Koestler and his wife was very enlightening and actually clearly brings out the difference between what was a necessity for one and what was essentially a suicide for the other. Yes, I agree. When we can afford the luxury of euthanasia for our pets and animals, why not to humans themselves.

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    1. It's only a matter of time. People will start demanding for the legalisation of euthanasia and the govt will have to give it. The way the world is going, death will be a better option for more and more people :(

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  10. Euthanasia as a topic needs to be dealt with carefully lest it becomes another policy to be misused....The dowry legislation is one such example...Now Supreme court is taking cognizance to the fact and hence have rightly called for a nationwide debate..

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    1. The SC has done the right thing seeking to know the people's mandate or people's level of consciousness. Anyway, passive euthanasia has been legalised in many countries and it will be legalised in India too when the time comes. How much time we take to see the right things is the only problem.

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  11. Many healthcare firms are making money because of such people who cannot live nor die. Everyday, hospital charges, medication charges etc are consuming huge amounts of money. Doctor makes regular visits just as another routine. Talk about becoming commercial!

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    1. Absolutely right, friend. 'Death' is a big business now. Before the medical science progressed so much, people could die in peace. Now they die in pieces.

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    2. Absolutely right, friend. Befor the medical science progressed so much, people could die in peace. Now they die in pieces.

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