In the West the debate on euthanasia is ongoing. The dictionary has euthanasia defined as:
(1) The act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, as by lethal injection or the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment.
(2) A quiet, painless death.
The recent Florida case of Teresa Marie ‘Terri’ Schiavo was an example of ‘the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment’. The life support was withdrawn from the woman who was brain dead for 15 years. She was nothing more than a vegetable.
The court approved decision to withdraw her life support became a tussle between her husband, who sought legal permission for the mercy ending of her meaningless life, and her family who wanted to continue the life support. The court decided in favour of her husband despite President Bush wading into the family dispute.
Bush did so because his advisers saw a political opportunity to kill 2 birds with one stone, consolidate the president’s support among his Christian Right supporters and distract the American public’s attention from the growing US disaster in Iraq. Obviously the politicians didn’t give a sh*t about the additional trauma to the family, by prolonging the husband’s already long sufferings and providing false and cruel hope to the woman’s family.
In Australia, Dr Philip Nitschke is an euthanasia activist, who puts his 'money' where his mouth is, getting into trouble with the law on a number of occasions for helping hopelessly ill patients achieve a quick painless death. Critics condemn him as a murderer and called him Dr Death. But his supporters see him as an angel of mercy, who relieves the sufferings of those already waiting for death from incurable but painful diseases.
In India, the Jains has a practice called Sallekhna or ‘voluntary death’. Ratan Bai, a 75-year-old woman in Ganj Basoda, a small town in Madhya Pradesh, India did just that. She fasted and slowly wilted away into death over a period of six months in a rare example of an ancient salvation rite of the Jain religion.
Jains believe in reincarnation like Hindus and Buddhists. For them, salvation is obtained by worthy personal effort, such as leading an austere and nonviolent lives. A few Jains have from time to time undertaken Sallekhna. To them it is a noble ritual for ending the cycle of death and rebirth. They stop eating and meditate until they die.
No fuss, no court case, no hurting of anyone else, either emotionally, mentally, financially (as in a protracted series of court cases) or physically by threats of violence. And in India, no politician saw her Sallekhna as an opportunity to exploit political brownie points for himself. They stayed aside to allow the woman her dignified voluntary exit from her earthly bounds.