This Couple Wants to Die: Where Does the Euthanasia Debate Stand?

This Couple Wants to Die: Where Does the Euthanasia Debate Stand?

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She is 78. He is 88. And all they want to do is die. Narayan and Iravati Lavate are healthy, financially stable, and leading a routine life in Mumbai. But they see no purpose in going on living.

The Supreme Court has upheld passive euthanasia and sanctioned Living Will in a landmark order. But ‘active’ euthanasia, seeking death when you are healthy, is still very much illegal.

If the law doesn’t help us, we’ll take the law in our hands. I will kill her and I will go to the gallows and face the consequences.
Narayan Lavate

The Lavates’ never wanted children and they don't have any. So, they say they have “no ties” holding them back.

“We have to die some day or the other, so why not go early? The earlier the better,” adds the 88-year-old.

Do They Have the Right to Die?

The couple’s odd demand has started a conversation on the right to death. FIT reached out to a doctor, a lawyer and a professor of philosophy for their opinion.

Aruna Shanbaug case had sparked a nationwide debate on euthanasia in 2011. It was in her case that the SC first permitted passive euthanasia in India. Shekhar Naphade, the lawyer who fought the case, says this about the Lavates’.

Theirs is a challenge to the established system of law. In a way, they are rebels. But, nobody has a right to take his life. Apart from the fact that it constitutes an offense under the IPC, morally it is reprehensible.
Shekhar Naphade, Lawyer
In 2011, the Supreme Court permitted passive euthanasia in Aruna Shanbaug case.
In 2011, the Supreme Court permitted passive euthanasia in Aruna Shanbaug case.
(Photo: Wikipedia)

The couple has invested a lot of work into finding out ‘how’ they could die.

I’ve been pursuing this subject, right from 1987. And I have been corresponding with various authorities right from 2015 - I had prepared a draft of the legislation and sent it to the members of parliament, to the PM etc, but there was no response from them.
Narayan Lavate
Is their demand morally right? Can old age be a reason to end life?
Is their demand morally right? Can old age be a reason to end life?
(Photo: FIT)

“We lived happily. Now, we don’t want to fall prey to the ailments that come with old age. We have signed up for donating our organs after we die - therefore, I say that when we are alright, physically - then it will be better for them to take the organs,” says Mr Lavate.

But what is the legal status of ‘active’ euthanasia world over?

There’s not too much precedent. But there is a Bill being debated in the Netherlands that calls for assisted suicide to be made legal for healthy people above the age of 75.

But India only allows passive euthanasia - and that too, only under special circumstances - and only for patients in a permanent vegetative state. Active euthanasia, which is for terminally ill people, is *not* allowed.

Shekhar Naphade calls their whole argument flawed.

To say that there is no purpose left in this couple’s life is too ridiculous an argument in support of the case that I have a right to put an end to my life.
Shekhar Naphade

We reached out to a professor of Philosophy at Delhi University. Is what the Lavates’ want, morally right?

There is this intrinsic, inalienable value which is attached to life - the sanctity to life, so that means that you have a duty towards your life. The right to life is not only a right, it is a duty which you have to protect your life. Right to life doesn’t include the right to death. This is the idea coming from the camp that advocates paternalism.
Dr Ayesha Gautam

The professor elaborates that there is a group of philosophers who do advocate right to death. “There’s this other camp which looks at right to life as discretionary and not a mandatory right. So, that means if a person is willing and is making an informed rational choice to die, then we can agree up on that. But that too would have certain limitations,” adds the professor.

We spoke with Dr Sameer Malhotra, a leading psychiatrist in Delhi, about this couple’s obsession with death.

Somewhere down the line if you don’t have your children staying with you, caring for you - there is this sense of insecurity that what if I fall ill, or my partner falls ill?
Dr Sameer Malhotra

‘Active’ Euthanasia a Dangerous Proposition

Dr Gautam says, “Suppose if we allow voluntary euthanasia in this case, suppose the President says that okay, let’s allow it - so can we universalise this case and we can say that later if there are other people, we are going to allow them also. If you are saying that the choice which you are making is moral, then it should fulfill this principle of universalizability.”

Shekhar Naphade feels the society is not mature enough to handle such debates in a public forum.

Ultimately, what is the test of suffering? A person may have an acute pain in his teeth and he may find it that he cannot bear that, therefore what - do we put an end to his life? No. The real test according to me, which I tried to propound in Aruna Shanbaug’s case is that whether the person is in such vegetative state that he is completely devoid of human life.
Shekhar Naphade, Lawyer

Dr Malhotra thinks we need a societal level intervention. “I think that if we have good, parallel, social support systems where your medical health, medical emergencies, daily chores are taken care of.” He further says the couple needs support. “I think the couple needs care, affection, support from the community and we need to make sure that they redefine their purpose of life so that they do not end up killing each other but rather live till the nth moment in the most dignified way and with respect from the community and people around them.”

Cameraperson: Sanjoy Deb
Video Editor: Kunal Mehra and Prashant Chauhan

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