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Understanding Euthanasia & Its Moral Implications In Pakistan – By Haider Rifaat

Hippocrates once said, “I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.” This very statement goes to show that euthanasia is a downright objectionable form of violence. Mercy killing is defined as ending a person’s life with consent to relieve unimaginable pain and suffering. Its very definition has evolved since its emergence (speculated 1870s) and varies across cultures. For instance, Ancient Greeks and Romans had familiarized themselves with this concept long before its emergence. It is important to shed light on such an important subject matter to enlighten masses about the term euthanasia and its moral implications, especially in Pakistan.

Euthanasia can be subdivided into three main categories:

  • Voluntary Euthanasia which essentially means, ending an individual’s life painlessly upon his or her consent.
  • Involuntary Euthanasia which is defined as ending an individual’s life without his or her consent. Ancient Greeks, Romans and practitioners of euthanasia relied heavily on this category. Involuntary euthanasia is considered unethical. Anyone who practices it can be charged for murder.
  • Non-voluntary Euthanasia occurs when consent of an individual is unavailable. Take for instance, an infant or a young child. People assume on their own whether the decision to end a life should be undertaken or not.

It goes without saying that Mercy Killing is not a genetic form of behavior. It is neither inherited nor a part of one’s personality. However, it may become a personality trait if one lives in an environment where euthanasia is widely practiced and preached. Furthermore, ethical concerns and morals may facilitate such a practice. Take for example, doctors who voluntarily end lives of individuals. Similarly, mercy killing may be adopted if a society, at large approves it. Individuals will most likely conform to such a practice if a society considers it just. Among other factors facilitating such a behavior are awareness programs, documentaries, films and articles in favor of mercy killing. However, clash of opinion prevails when individuals condemn euthanasia depending on their personalities and the cultures.

The roles of professionals providing psycho-social support suggest individuals who initiate requests for mercy killing would consider the following factors:

  • A clear understanding of alternatives to euthanasia including palliative care, psychotherapy and counseling.
  • The impact on familial relationships and significant others.
  • The other side of the story; division of wealth (when to die and how to die etc.)
  • Psychosocial support provided to family and loved ones after death.

In Pakistan’s context, euthanasia is largely practiced in secrecy. It is predominant in many parts of Pakistan and is considered a taboo. One of the cases involved an individual’s mother suffering from a 9-year long coma. The son decided to euthanize her life and gave her sleeping pills to relieve her pain. Similarly, a mother helped her chronically ill daughter end her life, but was never charged. An infant, who suffered from brain damage, was put on a life support machine for nearly four months when his parents decided to end his life painlessly.

There are some devastating drawbacks of euthanasia. Families are torn apart and adversely affect the future generations. Additionally, convincing family members to comply with such an idiosyncratic practice will create further conflicts as they presently do in our families. In Pakistan, financial strains and wealth division may pressurize patients to opt for suicide. The most common drawback of euthanasia is guilt-ridden behavior and self-doubt.

I, for one believe that endorsing euthanasia promotes negativity in a society, be it Pakistan or any other state. No human reserves the right to end a person’s life be it a woman or a man. It is incredibly important to discuss euthanasia to better understand its influence and impact on Pakistan’s society.

I happened to interview a few Pakistanis about euthanasia and received varied responses.

Hasan Ahmad, a graduate student from Punjab said, “It should no longer be an option. Mercy killing is an act of violence I condemn.”

Fatima Rashid, a school teacher stated, “I think it depends. If a person is physically impaired or suffers from a chronic illness, euthanasia should be considered upon consent.”

Similarly, Danial Hussain a marketing manager expressed his views about mercy killing; “We can debate the subject matter but first, Pakistanis need to understand what it really means. Not many people know what mercy killing is although it is practiced in secrecy.”

The social media has played a pivotal role in enlightening the masses about the subject matter and its importance. There are no laws regarding euthanasia in Pakistan and legalizing it is not an option to consider. The ill-treatment of ageing and chronically ill individuals in Pakistan has caused an uproar regarding euthanasia being practiced or not. In view of absolute poverty, individuals want euthanasia to be legalized. Healthcare plays a significant role in giving rise to mercy killing owing to the incompetence of medical professionals.