India Uncut

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

Wanting death

What should be done about K Venkatesh? This former chess player has been in hospital for the last few months with a worsening muscular dystrophy, he is already on life support, there is apparently no hope of improvement, and he has asked for euthanasia, so that he can donate his organs before infection sets into them and they become useless. His hospital refused his request, though, and when he moved the Andhra Pradesh High Court, they turned him down as well. His mother is now approaching the Supreme Court, with the same harrowing request: please let my son die.

I sympathise with Venkatesh, and admire his courage. But I doubt that the Supreme Court will accept his request. While in this particular case euthanasia might be the most humane solution, if it sets a precedent, and mercy killing becomes legal in India (which it currently is not except for brain-dead patients), the law might well be misused. The BBC story I linked to above points to the “thriving illegal trade in organ donation”, while the Sify story I linked quotes L Ravichander, a lawyer, as saying, “any such change in the Organ Transplant Act in the present social milieu will open the doors for exploitation of the poor by the rich. The rich people in search of organs will bribe the poor into an early death, even when there is a possibility of the poor surviving."

Is the possible, or even probable, misuse of a law reason enough to be against it if the law itself is just? (After all, isn't every law misused in India?) Would that not be injustice to those who would legitimately benefit from the law if it existed, as Venkatesh and his family would? These are difficult questions to answer and, of course, many people are against euthanasia in the first place. For an excellent primer on the subject, click here. Also read this interesting piece by Iain Murray, written a year ago in Tech Central Station.

Update (Dec 17) - He's gone. RIP, K Venkatesh.
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