Saturday, December 19, 2009

Right To Life

When I was about 15, a girl in my apartment committed suicide. She was nineteen.

She was not really a friend but I knew her well enough. She was a member of a club I belonged to and sometimes we all hung out together. After her death, we went to her house to offer our condolences to the family. Standing on her ninth floor balcony, from where she jumped off to her death, I could not stop shuddering. Everything looked tiny and small from up there and I kept on thinking what immense courage it took to jump off from that height. At that time, to me, suicide meant courage. I could never think of ending my life. Death was an uncertainty and I was not brave enough to face it.

Later, much later, I realized choosing death over life was actually an act of cowardice. No matter how painful her life was at that point of time, she needed to face it. She needed to examine her feelings, talk about them. She needed to fight for her life. One meaningless act, that perhaps took just a few seconds to execute, forever changed the life of her family. She left her parents, her brother and her sister, who she claimed to love with all her heart, guilt ridden and unhappy forever.

Life is all about meeting challenges. Just when everything is smooth, it throws a curve that leaves you a bit clueless. But there is no problem that a human mind can not navigate. We may get hurt, but we also heal. And we continue to journey on our path, knowing that there is always a new dawn, breaking somewhere, on this earth.

But what if our mind and our body did not decipher this truth? What if we permanently stay in a world which is always dark? What if we lose our ability to walk and to talk, to eat and to breathe, to know and to comprehend? What if we have to be kept alive by machines and modern medical marvel, completely stripped of our dignity? Suffering pain and trauma that will never go away? Do we still say that choosing life over death is the only right thing to do?

Aruna’s story, which is currently in the news, has left me in a moral dilemma. Do we have the right to decide to end the life of a person who can no longer decide for herself? Do we say that in her case, death is a better option than continuing her meaningless suffering? The hospital staff, which looks after her is vehemently against euthanasia. They have looked after her for the last 36 years with love. They can continue to do so for the next 36 years. But is this the life she would have wanted to lead?

I know that if I ever were reduced to a vegetative state, completely dependent on other people for my basic survival, life would lose its meaning. Life may be a struggle at times, but I know that it is worth fighting for. But what if I knew there would never be an end to my pain? Would it still be meaningful? Would it be wrong for me, or for any one for that matter, to seek a dignified exit?

The medical world is divided over euthanasia. Do we have any legal right to end somebody else’s life even if we know the person may suffer endless trauma day in and day out? There will always be 2 sides to this story. But I continue to believe that though I have the courage to face any challenges that life may throw at me, I also need to have my right to dignity. And my right to live a life that is not spent hooked up to various machines and force fed by well meaning strangers.

A cruel life or a merciful death…I should have the right to decide.


Anonymous said...

36 years! My God...How did they manage that!!! Sad state of affairs. The guy gets 6 years and is set free.What kind of justice is that?

Suicide is an easy choice when things get bad. When you are human enough to consider the feelings of others you leave behind, you refrain from doing it. But living as a burden on others is not a life. I wouldn't want to live like that either....

Nupur said...

In extreme cases like Aruna's the choice should be given of 'merciful death'.

It's like this AD,people who have choices-life or death,they behave immaturely and prefer being a coward whereas they can fight and face the drift that life is bringing them to..but when people like Aruna don't have a choice or are not asked / given a choice they want it so much !

Also,there is a small role of destiny into the picture..if at all she is not destined to be dyeing right now she will not- no matter what..and that has been proven many a times-look around and I'm sure you will know what I mean..No,I don't totally believe in luck and destiny and certainly not depend on these..but I believe that there is a force behind us all and it makes us move round in until we complete the circles of life that we are here for, we are not out of the game yet !


Your post is really a serious and concerning is difficult to say what would be our option, life or death, but I agree with you, living like a machine, no feelings, no pleasure, no life.... this would not be my choice!

The Panorama said...

A thought provoking post. You know Iread about Aruna too and have been wondering if death is maybe a kindness here. God has actually taken her life away and if it wasn't for the force feeding she would be long gone.
But as such am totally against euthanasia. Most people who want to die usually say so because they don't want to be a burden on others...but in Arunas case ...its a real dilemma as you say.
I think if it was me, I would want to die too.

Good to have you back:)

Satish K Mantha said...

Surely so. I hope you have seen the movie "A Million Dollar Baby". Aruna's case is similar. It should not be the legalities that define such cases. There are a lot of emotions due to which, as you say, the medical world is divided on this issue.

oRange* said...

oh yes, i've been following Aruna's story too and its terrible.

i think mercy killing should be granted in this case because she is in a bad state and the doctors too say that she wont get better. this poor female's been suffering for 36 years and for her, everyday is such a struggle. she must be hating it. i recently saw her video and just looking at her actually got tears in my eyes. her curled fingers, her wrinkled face, that look of hers was heart-wrenching.

Suicide is an act of cowardice but she must have been in a very difficult situation that made her take this step. such cases just make me wish she'd had atleast someone to talk to ..someone who could prevent her from taking such a huge step.

oops. that was a long comment. sorry.

manju said...

This is a truly difficult dilemma-and I don't think that there can be a uniform answer for all cases.

In Aruna's case, I agree, the merciful thing would be to allow her to die.

Not only is her life constant suffering, but the news channels are permitted to further rob her dignity by showing videos of her trashing around on her hospital bed! I would call this violation of her human rights.

Nupur said...

Yes I agree with Manju on this point...robbing her off her dignity by making a byte or two about Aruna is's a case and shouldn't be treated like a masala movie !

ZB said...

Aruna's case is really sad. I read it last year for the first time and i had tears in my eyes.

But i feel mercy killing is situational and in this case she should be aloud to live. Who are we to play God. She has lived for 36 years, might as well for rest of her life. As a symbol of injustice.

But i feel suicide is neither an act of courage nor cowardice.Its more a mental state. Depression. When the cognitive capacity of the person is effected. One finds no way ahead. Perhaps it needs more medical and psychological intervention. Its too simple to call it an act of cowardice. TC:)

Smita said...

Am totally with you as far as facing up life is concerned. Suicide seems like an easy way out but do ppl think about what happens to the family left behind?

Aruna's case is one of the sadest case I have heard of. She has been undergoing the trauma for wt 36 yrs??? The guy wasn't even charged for rape!! I wud say she shud at least be given a choice to put an end to her agony!!! Why shud bear the pain of somebody else's crime? Specially when there are not bright spots ahead for her!!

sangeeta said...

Here after a long time n again n a sensitive topic this time...
suicide is not an act of cowardice , neither it is bravery is a state of mind and the person is in a state of deep depression , reason n logic is not applied here....a depressed mind needs cure .

About euthanasia , i don't think it is wrong , living with dignity should be a topmost human right n i think it's not only the vegetative patient who wants euthanasia most of the times , the family members n caregivers too want it for them sometimes...seeing the person in pain n struggling every minute for survival ( not life )is the most horrible for them is not an enjoyment but a punishment...i am speaking from experience Aparna !!
a crippled life is not worth living...

The Holy Lama said...

A vegetative life is not real life. But if such a one offers a sense of relationship for others, maybe such a condition might go on for say 2 years till these"others' come to terms with the fact of losing the dear one. 36 years is too long considering that the aging body can no more digest even the nutrition given. Any more delay in Aruna's case is more a mockery of life than saving it. All said, this is a difficult decision to take. If justice has to be done to Aruna, those responsible for her condition should be punished.

geeta said...

36 yrs vs. 6 yrs ...sheer injustice...How could that man be left like this???

Suicide is surely an act of cowardice.I believe in taking the challeges in life as they come.Fight for your right to life till the end.

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SJ said...

If i have a dog who has some terminal illness, and if the doc advices me to put him to sleep. I will do it. If my kid is in this condition and asks me to do the same. I am not so sure I will have the courage to do it. This is such a bad state for anyone to be in. But in the case of Aruna 36yrs is too much of suffering, the poor lady doesn't even know whats going on. I think she should be allowed to go to the other side.

Nupur said...

you have been nominated

Balvinder Balli said...

What i feel is that we all are the creations of God almighty and if we believe in the dictum "Kan Kan Mein Bhagwan" then we must believe that there a part of that Bahgwan in Aruna also. When we can worship the lifeless idols of God, offer money, gold and other wealth for these in the name of God why cant we look after Aruna also in the name of God. Why can't the crores and crores of offerings in the temples, gurudwaras and other shrines contribute for keeping a creature of God alive, may be in vegetative state, but alive of course. Why can't that rapist come forward and spends rest of his life looking after Aruna. Well questions and questions yes but any answers?.

Nice thought provoking post Aparna.

Aparna said...

Jyothi, 36 years is a long time...this is not the way any human being should live.

Nu, I completely agree with you about the destiny part. But it is rather disheartening to see a person suffer like this for no reason.

Helena, wishing you a Merry Christmas. Hope you have a fabulous New Year as well.

Panorama, it is good be back.My feelings about euthanasia is mixed. I feel in cases like Aruna, death would be merciful. Sometimes however, it would be a crime.

Satish Mantha, there are a lot of moral, ethical and spiritual issues regarding euthanasia. May be each case should be debated individually before coming to any conclusion.

oRange,suicide is totally different.But here, in Aruna's case If we as strangers react so strongly to her suffering, can you imagine what she may be going through?

Manju, I believe there are videos available on the net of Aruna, though I have not seen them. The media is quite irresponsible at times. I just hope people show more respect to such patients. Right to dignity is as important as right to life, at least for me.

Nu, I totally agree with Nu here.

Blunt Edges said...

i saw it on the news...i really have no clue what's the right decision here!

Vivek S Patwardhan said...

Dear Aparna,

You have written so well on this big dilemma. It is a dilemma of right vs right; of choosing justice vs mercy.

Technically [and dispassionately]speaking, any choice is right. These dilemmas force us to re-examine our values and beliefs. And it is not easy to say that 'I stand for this' without feeling that we are ignoring an equally valid case.

Thanks for raising these issues, and doing it so well,


BK Chowla, said...

I have been reading this incidence.
I think she should be allowed to decide if she really wants to live ?

Onkar said...

A very evocative and inspiring post. Yes, I agree that euthanasia may be the option one needs to exercise at times.

Sandhya said...

apparna: I know a family whose son committed suicide just 2 day before his tenth std. public exam, because he thought he would fail. This happened 22 years back. It is still affecting their family. His brother is pampered like any thing and he has turned out to be a selfish person. The nature of the whole family members, has changed.

Staying in bed like a vegetable is not 'living'. How to take permission from her to end her life? She cannot 'think' about anything. In this type of case, just removing the machines, which help her just to 'breathe' is not wrong, I feel.

Deepa said...

Hi. I've been following your blog for a bit. I've read the book 'Aruna's Story' and its very poignant. Throws up so many questions which are difficult to answer. A very well written account by Pinki Virani. Left me with a feeling of anger and frustration at the callous end to a promising life.

I am ambivalent on the issue of euthansia. When people argue for it, I tend to agree. And when people agrue against, I'm for it!! Haven't really decided yet which side of the fence I'm on.

Ire said...

I think Aruna should be relieved. It is too much. Her soul needs to rest now.

As for suicide, I found out about a classmate who hanged herself just before my final exams and I had blanked out.

It is an impulse my mom says, when people end their lives and definitely an act of cowardice. My mom always says that think of the people who have given you life before you do anything drastic. You owe your life to them.

eye-in-sty-in said...

Rules are made for a reason, but every once in a while there comes a situation that needs to be dealt aside of the rules. Because rules were made for general situations and not extraordinary ones. This is an extraordinary situation and the person shoulod be allowed to make that decision.

Suicide is different - here the person is making a choic as the suffering is prolonged and there is not much that can be done in the present circumstances. This would not be called suicide.

Very nicely put.

Destiny's child... said...

When I read about it in the paper, I almost had tears in my eyes. How can a person live like that for 36 years? I really think mercy killing should be granted in her case. The hospital staff may not mind looking after her, but then what existence is it, where you don't even have the choice to think for yourself?

ani_aset said...

It so much depends on every individual Aruna's case it seems many would agree for euthanasia..Suicide is one thing that needs to be condemned..but in this case the right to live should be with the patient..i don't know how they actually get an answer to such question from the patient :(

Ishita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Suicide! there are 2 different angles to it. which way you look at it, makes the difference.

As you sed, committing suicide is an act of cowardice... its an escape route, leaving the others to suffer.

But the actual act of ending your life, which is irreversible, I find it a brave act. Maybe i find it so because right now, sitting in the comfort of my own home, it seems ghastly to even imagine myself in suicidial maniac's shoes.

In either case, it is not justified.

Ishita said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aparna said...

ZB, you are right, suicide is not a black and white issue. Aruna's case is an exception as she has suffered for 36 years. If SC allows her death, it wont even be considered as suicide as she is unable to decide for herself. But people who commit suicide out of depression need medical intervention and our support and sympathy. But what about those who choose death just because they do not want to face life's painful moments? I condemn that act. But overall, I do understand what you want to say and I respect your opinion.

Smita, Aruna's case is perhaps the saddest story I have ever read or heard. That lady deserves to go with dignity.

Sangeeta, I completely echo your sentiments. I also have prayed for the release of a loved one just because I was unable to see her suffer so much. Suicide however is completely different.

Holy lama,not many people are raising the issue of punishment. The person who is responsible for such a heinous crime should be be given the most severe punishment ever possible.

Geeta Banati, will definitely visit your blog. Thanks for visiting mine.

SJ, it is a rather difficult decision to let a person go. But sometimes that person suffers so much that you are forced to pray for his/her release from pain.

Nu, thanks a lot, I am happy beyond words.

Balvinder Singh, thanks, yours is a different take altogether. I wish every one thought like you.

Aparna said...

Blunt edges, we are all equally clueless about this case. I just hope the woman is allowed dignity, in life as well as in death.

Vivek Patwardhan,true, this a right versus right, justice versus mercy. Whatever is the verdict,there will always be a debate regarding this.

BK Chowla, the problem is that she is unable to take a decision of her own.

Onkar, dignity...that I feel is the key issue here.

Sandhya, all of us are rather divided over this issue as this is not a suicide but allowing to die with dignity. There really can not be a right answer to all our questions here.

Deepa, I think all of us sitting on the same fence as this is not a right versus wrong issue here.

Nikki, I feel the same way Nikki.

Eye-in-sty-in, thanks for putting across the point so articulately.

Destiny's child, I think all of us feel what you have expressed.

Ani-aset, this is such a difficult situation, no one can be right or wrong here. I just feel that she should go with dignity.

Purnima, I also thought like you for a long time. Now I feel facing life's challenging moments can be more difficult than death. Suicide is nothing but escape at times. Though those people who end their lives due to severe depression need treatment and our support.

Tomz said...

Obviously nobody has the right to take the life of a human being, be it the life of self or another one..
Thanks for writing such relevant posts..

Gauri Gharpure said...

i am on the fence as far as euthanasia is concerned, but the writing about suicide was beautiful.. a college acquaintance jumped to death some 3 years back and tht was my first real brush with suicide.. i reacted abt it on the blog and seemed a good clean-up for the mind

Haddock said...

I have only two questions :
1) Who was the judge who gave him only seven years and and let him free with the plea "sodomy is not sexual assault" Why should the judge not be punished for this?
2) He is working again as a ward boy in some Hospital in Delhi. Why and how can a Hospital (or for that matter any one) give him a job even after knowing what he has done. Social boycott is the fitting answer for him.

Parita said...

I totally agree with you for your views on suicide. No matter how difficult the life gets one should face it. In Aruna's case 26 years is too long, its really sad.

Samvedna said...

I have always condemned the suicides, though i have seen too many at close quarters.

But Euthanasia..I support, but again in India it could be a tool for criminals also to gain wealth or something like that.

Tripat "Prerna" said...

a cruel life or merciful death - wonderful...hats of to u!

Aparna said...


I thank all of you for your candid views. This is a very unique case and should be debated with caution. Aruna deserves our sympathy. I sincerely hope the guy who did this to her is caught and punished. 7 years is too less for such a brutal crime.

HaRy!! said...

36 years my God!! how on earth, well i think they shud be allowed for a merciful death!.. my grandma is still in bed in a pitiful state for last 8 years! :( !

Anonymous said...


Sucharita Sarkar said...

Aruna's story brought tears to my eyes, too. As you so well say, we should live, but with dignity. I think the Court should agree to give her a dignified rest, after 36 years of a wasted ravaged existence.

Nupur said...

A very happy and healthy year 2010 to you and your family !

G S Pillai said...

Hi Aparna,

Been a long time ain't it!

Well, have a great year ahead.

As usual, the writing is thought provoking. As usual, more questions than answers.

Suicide is a social action. The act itself can only be made sense of in the social situation which gives meaning to it. It could be an act of great courage, or as in this case, a pathetic way out.

Regarding euthanasia, the jury is still out, and perhaps that's the way it ought to be - making us have to decide on a case-by-case manner.

In case of long-term illness a patient has the option of giving a DNR consent - stands for Do Not Resuscitate - provided the doctor and others are satisfied that the patient is at the time of giving consent capable of making informed choices.
We even have a funny book called DIL. May be I should blog on it.

Anonymous said...

Aruna's case definitely is one of the saddest case I have ever followed. It's so frustrating to know that the ward boy got only a few years of prison and when he finished his sentence he had the nerve to come back and remove the railings to Aruna's bed which resulted in her falling off and breaking her bones.I think the criminal should be behind bars forever rather than enjoying a job and life after what he did.

I still don't know where my mind stands when it comes to mercy killing. To me life is too precious.

geeta said...

Hope you were surrounded by smiles and wishes at the dawn of 2010..

A Very blossoming and cheering New Year to you.....

Zeba said...

i like having an opinion on everything. but this mercy killing issue is something i cant decide upon... 36 years is such a loooong time. don't know wht to say really.

Nishant said...

living as a burden on others is not a life. I wouldn't want to live like that either....

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