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.