Inscrutable law of karma
Euthanasia and law of karma
Much interesting and intelligent debate has been going on in the press and the media on the justification or otherwise, of passive euthanasia which the Supreme Court has recently held as allowable in extreme situations involving terminally ill patients, even as it rejected a plea for its use in the case of a woman who has been in a vegetative state for nearly four decades.
The medical and para medical staff of KEM hospital who have maintained this woman in coma, for over 37 years and well-nigh adopted her as one of their own, celebrated the Supreme Court judgement with glee and distributing sweets.
Even if some urban Indians, not only strongly favour euthanasia, but go a step further and plead that it is in the interest and welfare of the person suffering, the western world – specially Europeans, fully understand the widely held Indian perceptions against it. Because, in almost all of Europe too, there is an ongoing debate over assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Assisted suicide laws in Europe are lucid and clear in some States but vague, imprecise, ambiguous – if they exist at all – in others. Nevertheless, it is considered contrary to medical ethics for a doctor to assist a suicide.
German court ruling
It was only in June 2010, Germany's highest criminal court ruled that passive assisted suicide is legal if the patient has explicitly decreed his or her wish that treatment used to keep the patient alive should be terminated.
Turning off a ventilator or cutting a feeding tube fall under the category of permissible forms of terminating treatment. The Indian Supreme Court may have used this as a reference in its recent judgment.
Passive assisted suicide is also legal if the process of dying has irreversibly begun. Active assisted suicide remains illegal in Germany.
Liberal Swiss Laws
Switzerland has non-interventionist laws on assisted suicide in comparison with many other countries, although the practice is also legal in Belgium and the Netherlands. In recent years, hundreds of people have trudged to Switzerland to use the services of Dignitas, a leading assisted suicide organisation in the Alpine nation, founded by a Swiss human rights lawyer.
Many go on this gory journey with a ‘one-way-ticket', from Germany and Britain, where assisted suicide remains illegal.
In Switzerland, all that is needed is for a doctor to authenticate that the person in question wishes to depart this life and then write down a prescription for a fatal dose of the barbiturate sodium pentobarbital.
People wishing to die are accompanied by a ‘suicide aide,' ut patients administer the dose themselves.
The Netherlands is yet another European nation where very under the weather people have the right to medical assistance to slay themselves, if they choose to do so.
About 2,000 people die through assistance from the doctor each year. Belgium too, allows physician-assisted death in various incarnations.
Sweden has no law specifically proscribing assisted suicide. Neighbouring Norway has criminal sanctions against assisted suicide by using the charge “accessory to murder”. Denmark, France and Finland have nothing in their criminal code about assisted suicide.
In Italy the action is legally outlawed, although pro-euthanasia activists in Rome and Turin are pressing hard for law reform. Luxembourg does not outlaw assistance in suicide because suicide itself is not a crime.
In Scotland, England and Wales there is a likelihood of up to 14 years imprisonment for anybody supporting suicide. Oddly, suicide itself is not a crime, having been decriminalised in 1961. Thus, it is a crime to assist in a non-crime. Assisted suicide is a crime in the Republic of Ireland.
In my view there is a world of difference between a non-Indian faith that does not believe in another life and the Indian that is founded on the beginningless-endless continuum of life. Sankaracharya's Bhaja Govindam says:
“Punarapi jananam punarapi maranam,
Punarapi janani jatare sayanam”.
Meaning: “Birth leads to death, to birth again, from the mother's womb”.
The endless cycle itself is woven around the theory of karma which conveys very plainly, that all thoughts, words, actions of a person, produce an equivalent reaction or result, for himself — here itself or, hereinafter in a future life or lives. One will enjoy or suffer the results of one's deeds. Even the good great lord is not exempted. As Vamana, he interned the great Bali, unjustly. And when he incarnated as Krishna, he was tied down with ropes, by his own mother!
The Indian faith, therefore, reconciles to everyone's pleasures and pains as a means to work out the individual's baggage of past Karmas.
Let me emphasise that I am not canvassing this faith. It just happens to be there in the depths of the Indian faith, for millennia and cannot be wished away.
In this situation, while the ongoing debate would look perfectly logical, the abiding faith of a large community needs to be factored in.
There seems to be no logic in faith, whether in India or elsewhere. But, there it is — a baggage of sorts, most cannot do without. If you terminate a suffering prematurely, another life would be needed to finish up and disband.
As the scriptures say: “Sukritam dushkritam chaiva gachantam anugachathi”. Meaning: “What goes along as baggage of the departed are the good and bad deeds, only”. That enigmatic, unfathomable, inscrutable law of karma cannot be swiped away or escaped, by euthanasia.
(The author is former Europe Director, CII)
Hindu Business Line - März 21, 2011: