Euthanasia: where angels fear to tread


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Mankind seems to be at the crossroads on euthanasia, mercy killings. As in any other area where man wants to usurp the power to put an end to another life legally, logically there will be, and should be, other equally powerful opinions against such heinous crime. While we legalise abortions for population control, we condemn foeticide as a crime. For those who do not want female kids, foeticide could look innocuous. The debate is influenced by our narrow selfish motives. Man, whether in the palace or pad, castle or cottage, is governed by the same passions and emotions, basically selfishness and greed. Just because one is a doctor, jurist or lawmaker one does not become a saint. Even a man on the top of the mountain still sits on his haunches.

How does an individual come to the conclusion that an unconscious patient would prefer death to “suffering”? How could one kill him/her mercifully (mercilessly)? Until these vexing questions are answered, man should not be authorised to kill another of his species — the “so-called” mercy killing.

Society looks up to the medical profession for its considered opinion as society considers doctors knowledgeable, well-intentioned, and scientific in their opinions. Leaving the first two qualities to the imagination of the reader, let us critically look at the science of modern medicine. Is there a science of man? The answer clearly is an unequivocal “NO” says Dr. Alexis Carrel, a Nobel Laureate scientist. Medicine only follows a statistical science, says another great scientist, the late Professor Rustum Roy. Statistics is defined as a science without sense by a noted American statistician-epidemiologist, Steven Milloy. That the science of medicine has serious limitations is the considered opinion of another Nobel Laureate biologist, Peter Medawar. David Eddy, a professor of cardiac surgery at Stanford, almost stopped practising his art as he was convinced that there is no scientific basis for medicine. He went on to explore a new non-linear model for medical science — I couldn’t agree more.

Man is not a machine run by electro-biochemistry like any other machine which could be set right by repairing or replacing damaged organs. We have been using the linear laws of the inanimate sciences of physics and chemistry on an animate but conscious human being, a square peg in a round hole. Even physics now has come to realise that energy is the other name for matter; rightly called a-duality (advaita). Man, thus, becomes a bundle of energy with her/his own consciousness. No two human beings are alike as we do not have even identical fingerprints. Our idea of one-size-fits-all does not work in man. Even a comatose patient has his/her own consciousness. A child could remember the lullabies of the mother she said when it was in the womb. Perinatal consciousness imprints itself on the child for the rest of its life. Head injury patients have their own awareness. Patients under anaesthesia on the operating table could recount the conversation of the nurses and doctors.

Intercessory prayers could alter patient outcome even in intensive care units! Bio-photon pictures of Fritz-Albert Popp, a physicist, could show us how body cells could communicate with one another and with other cells in the vicinity. Nature works in its own mysterious ways. How then does science give us an indication that an unconscious patient is in pain and needs to be sent forthwith to meet her/his maker in heaven? Maybe, some of our rationalists and NGOs have a better insight into human nature! In fact, Pearl Buck wrote long ago that euthanasia is a long, smooth-sounding word, and it conceals its danger as long and smooth words do, but the danger is there, nevertheless. A couple of real life examples will emphasise my points about the unconscious consciousness. Jill Bolte Taylor is a celebrated neuroscientist at Harvard. At the age of 48, one fine morning, she is struck down in her bathtub with a massive haemorrhage damaging her left brain completely. After a complicated surgery and 10 years of rehabilitation she is back at her job. Talking about her experience at the time the haemorrhage began to destroy her left brain, she graphically describes how her right brain took charge with its altruistic nature. She felt one with the whole world and had such happiness, the like of which she had never ever experienced before or after that. With hindsight, she calls it as “NIRVANA” and now encourages people to practise praanaayaama to stimulate their right brains to enjoy happiness and reduce their misery of the left brain dominance causing hatred, greed, jealousy, anger and frustrations.

Similar was the experience of Dr. Johnston, a noted zoologist and specialist in lions. While he was photographing a lioness during her parturition, a slight noise from his camera shutters made the animal jump on him and crush him. Of course, forest guard eventually killed the lioness and took a badly mauled Johnston, in a deep coma, to hospital intensive care. After many years and a multitude of operations, he is alive and kicking. His autobiography describes that wonderful state of happiness when he was being crushed by the lioness and his subsequent misery during the many surgical operations that he had to undergo under deep anaesthesia.

Where is the human mind? What is the human mind? How does an individual come to the conclusion that an unconscious patient would prefer death to “suffering”? How could one kill him/her mercifully (mercilessly)? Until these vexing questions are answered, man should not be authorised to kill another of his species — the “so-called” mercy killing. I have not even touched upon the possibility of this being misused by the profession, noble once but greedy now. Elizabeth Butler and Ruth Richardson, journalist historians, feel that the modern medical profession has become “a corporate monstrosity.” One would do well to read that wonderful satire The Doctors Dilemma — a play by George Bernard Shaw, before coming to any conclusions about a doctor’s capacities. I have no such opinion, though. Money and power could sway things in any direction.

Author: Professor B.M. Hegde | Source: The Hindu [March 13, 2011]



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