The Right to Die.

There has been a controversy raging here in Britain about the Right to die.

A mother was cleared, last week, of charges of attempted murder of  her daughter who was suffering from the neurological condition ME.  Kathleen(Kay) Gilderdale had earlier admitted aiding and abetting the suicide of her 31 year old daughter who had battled ME for 17 years. She insists that she only acted in the best interests of her daughter.

Lynn Gilderdale’s moving account if her life and why she desperately wanted to end it, is enough to move amyone to tears. From an active, healthy girl, she becomes a bedridden woman, with multiple complications. When she did finally take her life, her mother helped her in it and ended up having charges of attempted murder on her. Luckily for her, the jury decided that she acted in the interests of and by the wishes of her daughter in helping her die. The judge even said that she should never have been prosecuted in the first place. Here is Kay’s account of why she helped her daughter die.

In another similar case, a mother was found guilty of murdering her son. Francis Inglis maintains that she acted out of love and compassion when she injected her brain-damaged son with a lethal dose of heroin. Her family and everybody who mattered to Tom, her son, is in full support of her action and were dismayed to hear the jury’s verdict.

These two contradicting verdicts, indicate the debate  and conflicting opinion that surrounds the delicate topic of Euthanasia. In Britain, apparently 75% people support the demand for change in euthanasia laws that would prevent carers of terminally ill patients from being prosecuted for assisted suicide.

Despite the huge public support for cases like this, the change in law would not be so easy. There is a lot of criticism from various quarters that are objecting to glorifying ‘mercy killing’. A GP talks about why he feels that legalizing assisted suicide, in his opinion is not right.The Archbishop of York has come of strongly against celebrity endorsements of euthanasia. At the end of the day, legalizing assisted suicides would be a very difficult task, mainly, because of the difficulty in categorizing which situations actually require it. And how would the law be framed such that it is not misused.

Any way, reading about the accounts of Kay Gilderdale’s situation of losing her daughter, of outliving her daughter( one of the most painful things for a parent)  and then being forced to defend her actions in court, being called a murderer of her own daughter, the daughter she was so devoted was very, very moving. It is sad that because of the law, the way it is, such people face prosecution. But is legalizing assisted suicides the solution? Where do you stand on it? What about in our country, India, do you think it makes sense or is it more than likely to be misused? Or do you think it is already happening but does not get reported because of the way things are?

46 thoughts on “The Right to Die.

  1. I think assisted suicide should be made legal…I mean, if a mother thinks ending her child’s life is better for the child, then who are the courts to contradict her…Problems may arise though because all parents are not selfless…

    I agree, especially given these 2 cases- it seemed so sensible to me – but one of the mothers actually got prosecuted. Can’t imagine what she must be going through..But then again, the possibility of misuse is always there.

  2. I do remember one of my classmates saying something abt this .. her uncle wanted to go in for mercy killing but circumstances wud nt allow him to.

    oh dear – was he very ill?

    categorizing which situations actually require it I think thatz the most difficult part no .. we r never sure hw much will be true when the law system esp. here is nt @ all leakage-proof.

    Exactly – there is no fool proof way of ensuring that only the right people end up using the option of assisted suicide.. It is so complex, isn’t it?

    In this case, its really really sad that the Mom hd to undergo soo much 😦 She wud hv convinced herself so much first of all to grant her daughter the freedom from this life 😦

    I know! It broke my heart to read it. Last night we watched it on BBC Panorama – she talks about it and it was heart wrenching.
    Some parts of it is here –

  3. Euthanasia, something that I have heard debated since childhood. Do I have a stand on it? Yes and no. While I totally supported it till a while back, I am not so sure anymore. Miracles happen right, people come back from the dead, so what if someone has a chance, doctors are not Gods are they. But would I be able to see my own child in insufferable pain, don’t think so, but could I kill him to relieve him of his misery…. that’s something I dread even thinking about!

    It is such a tough debate isn’t it? When we see people like Lynn Gilderdale, it looks as if she might be better off.. but then, as they say, if there is some slight possibility of improvement – then what? I agree with you – doctors are not gods – which is why a lot of doctors are against legalizing it because they will be placed in positions of having to help a person die..

    As for a mother to see her child like this – same here – I dread thinking about it too..

  4. There was a similar case in India that came up a few weeks back about a women, a nurse, who was raped and physically abused by a janitor/cleaner in a hospital. Due to the nature of her injuries, she was bedridden for life and is in coma….for the last 20 odd years. And with no hope of her coming out of it. Yet because mercy killing is not legal in India, she is being kept alive. I am not sure if that’s additional torture on the poor girl…

    I know -it is so tough when you hear of cases like this.. When I hear of cases like this, mercy killing seems to be the more humane option..but then again, it is also worrisome that someone might misuse it.

    I think mercy killing should be made legal but after due permission from the courts. Let the court decide if a particular person should be allowed to end his/her life. If a court of law takes a decision, prosecution is out of the way.

    Yes, but how many courts would be able to take a decision to end a person’s life? I mean, it would be such a tough decision, don’t you think?

    • Masood I am assuming you are talking about the Aruna case and she has been in that bed not for 20 but damn 36 long years for now 😦 where as that ward boy is back from a few years in jail and working in another hospital in Delhi

      ‘where as that ward boy is back from a few years in jail and working in another hospital in Delhi’ – That is the saddest part! The real guilty are allowed to go almost unpunished 😦

  5. But not sure if I have the same take if individuals take it onto themselves to end a life. It is a bitter pill to swallow.

    Yes, that would just be suicide, wouldn’t it?

    • I meant if individuals take it onto themselves (in their own hands) to end the life of the person in coma or any terminal illness…

      Ok got it 🙂 I think that is the biggest risk in legalizing it – people might just use it at their convenience, you know.

  6. This is very difficult to decide for anybody. The case which Masood has mentioned, the hospital is keeping the nurse alive for free.

    It certainly is.

    Remember ‘mriganayanee’ serial? If a person can never be a normal person again in his life and if he cannot feel any emotion, I think it is better to take a decision with the permission of all the family members. Maintaining a sick person, who cannot be revived, is not easy, I feel. And watching your own son or daughter suffering for lifetime, is horrible. But if it is made legal, definitely, people will try to misuse it.

    I agree totally. It makes sense if the decision is a collective one.. In the two cases that I mentioned, the family is supporting the mothers totally – but yet they had charges on them and one of them even got a conviction.. In such cases, I do think more compassion would be nice.. But legalizing it totally might just make it very likely to be misused.

  7. Euthanasia is such a delicate and sensitive topic. It is very difficult to take sides least for me. Although, one part of me says – mercy killing should be allowed to free terminally ill people who have no hope from pain…but another part of me says – life and death are god given and we should not be meddling with it. Also, more importantly the fact that I decide to pull out the life plug from a near and dear one and give them death…the feeling would haunt me forever, even though it would be in the best interest of the patient. Im not sure…also this opens the gate for misuse of this right. Maybe if this had to be allowed….judicial intervention could be grant a death wish.

    It is such a scary situation, isn’t it?

    For very long, I have been trying to form an opinion on this subject…but I still stand undecided.

    Same here- when I see such cases, I really feel that the mothers were right to do it. But again – I think it has to be case by case thing, rather than a law.

  8. Great post, Smitha. I am totally FOR mercy killing. I know how difficult it is to live with a bed-ridden and incapacitated person. While the people around get frustrated and depressed, the patient him/her-self is incredibly frustrated and helpless. And out of helplessness, as you know, is born anger and a whole host of other negative emotions, that inadvertently serve, to ruin the life of those who are alive and healthy around them! So, mercy killing is definitely the way forward, ‘IF’ the patient him/her-self wants it so. (Otherwise, ofcourse, its murder).

    I think you made a very important point – ‘So, mercy killing is definitely the way forward, ‘IF’ the patient him/her-self wants it so. (Otherwise, ofcourse, its murder).’ – but then what of patients who are in comas for years or are brain damaged? The second mother who was convicted was convicted of killing her brain damaged son. But I agree that it makes it much easier if the patient feels like this – and feels like this without any external pressure.

  9. I feel sad about such situations. Reminds me of the movie “I’ve Loved You So Long” I saw few months back in which a mother hides the real reason for her killing her son. Throughout her trial and even years after spending time in prison, she does not reveal the details of her son’s sickness to anyone.

    I haven’t seen it – will try and watch it. Sounds very interesting.

    I have no opinion on this, such a delicate topic.
    It is isn’t it? I was so moved when I saw this lady’s interview.. She was clearly someone who loved and cared for her daughter..

  10. I seriously dunno!!! There is a very thin line between what the rules are and how they are used!!!

    I agree.

    I somehow feel that there is no clear cut solution in cases like these & legalizing the whole thing is no solution because it leaves a big scope for misuse!! What I feel is they should be handled on case to case basis though feasibility would be a big factor!!!!

    I agree – it has to be a case to case decision. Legalizing it, might be more dangerous than keeping it legal.

    The video was actually very movie & you feel for the lady!

    I know..

  11. This is such a complicated question, Smitha. I don’t think anyone can truthfully say that they are ‘for’ or ‘against’ euthanasia. Each case is different and has to be considered on its own merits.

    I agree. The reason I wrote this is because it totally confuses me. On one hand you see people like this who are genuine and want the best for their child, on the other hand legalizing it has it’s own risks.

    As someone mentioned- the possibility of misuse is there. What is to prevent unscrupulous relatives from killing an elderly person to inherit his money, or because they are tired of caring for him? An ill elderly person physically dependent on caregivers, would not always be able to protect himself or protest if they state to the authorities that he himself wants to die.

    Exactly! It could so easily happen. And that is the biggest risk in legalizing assisted suicide.

    Also, can anyone say with certainty that a particular patient has absolutely no hope of recovery. Medical science may discover some remedy a few years in the future so a patient who is in coma currently may awaken.

    True.. As far as hope is there, it becomes a very difficult to justify decision.

    On the other hand, some cases really fill us with pity for the terminally ill patient who suffers every day.
    I know.. I was so moved to see the suffering of the daughter and the mother..
    I wish there were an easy answer!

  12. I seriously hope it is not legalized in a country like ours which finds a way around every law and misuses it to the maximum. I seriously don’t know what my views are about Euthanasia. When I meet people who suffer from illness or who have family members who are going through such a illness, I really feel bad for them and hope that their suffering comes to an end. But once I am over that emotion I tell myself that whatever the situation, there are certain things which we humans shouldn’t take in our hands and killing of any sort is one of them. What right do a bunch of people inside a court room have to decide if a person (who cannot decide for themselves) should live or not?? Smitha I really don’t know. It’s seems such an awful thing to do…to take away a life, a life that was not lived beautifully just because of an illness?

    I agree. Especially in our country where even less harmful laws are misused enough to make them very dangerous. And I agree -who are we to take a life or make a decision on whether it is time to end somebody’s life?

    After reading the cases you have mentioned I know their grief is beyond what we can fathom and who knows what the mind wishes when you are subjected to pain after seeing your own flesh suffer every single minute of his living life?

    I know.. Did you read Lynn’s account of her life? I mean, it is so sad.. It moved me to tears.. So when someone like her says that she wants to end her life – her parents must be thinking that it makes sense for her to end her suffering. I don’t know, it is sad and so very confusing..

  13. When I hear about cases like this I do feel such pleas are justified. Like the one Masood and Sakshi have mentioned about-the Aruna Shanbaug case. Imagine being in a vegetative state for 36years with no hope of recovery whatsoever. In such scenarios mercy killing should be the way forward.

    Same here.. everytime I hear of cases like this – then mercy killing makes sense – but then it also makes me wonder -what if carers try to take advantage in a scenario where the patient wants to live but cannot say so..

    Like in the incidents you’ve mentioned where mothers have had to take this brave decision to end their long suffering child’s life,I cant even imagine the predicament and anguish they would have gone through while taking such a drastic step.

    I know.. neither can I.

  14. 😦 donno what to say. Im shocked. I have read such stories before, but this is like….

    This shouldnt be legalised in our country. Like what sakshi said, the law would be misused to a large extent and people could get away easily.

    In our country, definitely not. I would certainly never trust the implementation of such a law.

  15. I have strongly supported mercy-killing ever since I heard this term. One needs to understand the pain involved is much more than the joy of mere living. I know I would want it for myself if I ever (God forbid) get into situation like this. And though there are chances of this being misused (as Sakshi rightly mentioned in the comment above), I still would want it to be granted to those who deserve it..

    I do understand what you are saying when you say – ‘ One needs to understand the pain involved is much more than the joy of mere living’. The only issue I have with legalizing it is the possible misuse. I mean people who don’t want to look after elderly relatives or even as somebody had mentioned on TV here – terminally unwell might even feel the pressure to opt for assisted suicide because it is legal.. you know.. Just because they don’t want to trouble the carer.

  16. 😐 😐
    I really dont know what to say. Too sensitive a topic.

    I know.. I had a tough time writing this post..

    But yes if it is made legal, in a country like India it is definitely likely to get misused. Who is to decide where to draw the line?

    Absolutely! And people who don’t want the responsibility of caring for another person might want to take the easy way out.

  17. I don’t think euthanasia should be legalized in a country like India where laws are orchestrated on the whims and fancies of the chosen few.

    I agree.. Welcome here Kaalicharan

  18. Weird, you should bring up a post on euthanasia – because I have been struggling to post one myself. It`s been lying in the drafts for the longest time now and I havent been able to sort out my thoughts coherently – mainly because it is in a very personal context.

    I had a tough time writing this. Have been trying to post for some time – ever since the controversy broke. Finally managed to do it just yesterday. It is such tough topic, isn’t it? I was worried that I would not be able to do it justice.

    Brilliantly written, Smitha!
    Thank you Mishy.

  19. I do support right to die of terminally ill patients who undergo unbearable pain. Having said that there should be proper guidelines to make sure it is not misused.

    I agree.

    About legalizing euthansia in country like India – I am sure it will be widely misused considering the many loopholes and flaws in legal system. Also, I am very sure that discreetly euthansia happens in many parts of India thanks to factors like high cost of medical treatment, poverty etc. Before thinking of legalizing euthansia in India, legally and medically lot of check points and reforms have to be done.

    Exactly – it is way too dangerous in India.

  20. This is one of those things which I am very, very confused about. How can we be sure that the person who pulls the plug is acting in the best interests of the patient? What if the person was just fed up of having to devote their life to being nursemaid to a bed ridden person? At the same time it also seems like such a crime to let someone that you love suffer interminably. I don’t know if there ever will be a clear solution to this conundrum.

    Same here – I keep oscillating between the two positions – mainly because each case is different. isn’t it? I mean it is very difficult to have a law which will work effectively in every case.

  21. Mercy killing..i think it happens and doesnot get reported. Also if it will be legal , it would be very hard to avoid the misuse. I wonder if it can be made legal in a way that if it happens it has to happen in presence of a doctor and police ..may be something like that can help.

    Yes, if it does get legalized, in countries like the UK, doctors will most probably be the ones who will have to adminster it – which is why some doctors might be against it. In India, though I would think that legalizing it has a lot of risks.

    Very sad incidents 😦

    I know.

  22. I really have no decisive stance on this.
    I mean, the cases that have been mentioned by Sakshi, Masood, once feels that mercy killing is merciful for the patient… but, again, I also fear the cases where it would be misued.

    Same here – I really feel bad that people have to go through so much – but at the same time, really wonder if legalizing it is the best option.

    Not sure, but, such stories, really make me feel helpless…

    I know..

    Let me think some more and see if I can decide on my stance on this

    I have never been able to decide my stance on it – it is way too complex. I think things have to decided on a case by case basis, don’t you think?

  23. frankly I dont know where i stand on this… and I dont want to reason… ! sigh… too touchy is this subject… !

    I can understand that.. It is very difficult to use reason and logic 😦

  24. Smitha there is a possibility of such cases in India not being reported if they do take place. I agree there is a strong risk of such laws being misused!

    I agree, IHM.

    I think each case would be different… I remember one case where the daughter was charged with her mother’s murder. Sad and very difficult to take a stand… you know it is possible to create a situation where the person wants to die? In India I would never support such a law.

    Case by case basis is what makes sense. ‘you know it is possible to create a situation where the person wants to die?’ – yes, and that is such a scary thought.

  25. I don’t know what to comment on this.Mercy killing is necessary at rare conditions.But if we make it legal , i’m damn sure it is gonna be misused.Especially now a days , many consider there aged parents are a burden,i’m afraid that chances are there , they will use this loophole.I heard in some European country its legal(Denmark or nether land, not sure though).May be the law can be modified for cases like , if a person is in coma for a longtime or something like that

    I know – that risk is always there. It is legal in Switzerland. Some time back there was this woman who travelled to Switzerland to die, she has some terminal illness- I don’t recall what. It was debated a lot here.

  26. Even though its an extremely difficult decision to take fromt the near and dear ones, it does happen in India, but not publicised so much.

    I thought as much.

    My uncle, who had brain hemorrhage, started responding after the brain surgery. But he would suddenly be a teenager, suddenly a kid, suddenly the present man – My God, it was so confusing for my aunt. Then when he went into coma, 2 days later, the doctors told of the impossible situation that all his internal organs have died and he is totally on life support systems. That day, my aunt took the impossible decision of removing his life support systems and guide him to peaceful death.

    It sounds harsh but he is better off than living like that.

    Your aunt must have had such a tough time. She must have been so brave to take this decision. Yes, I agree, he must be better off than living like that..

    If this needs to be legalised, so many factors need to be considered and proper rules shld be formulated. There’ll always be ppl around to turn such laws to their benefits.

    I know. And I wonder if it is even possible to plug all the loopholes.

  27. Gosh.I’m like most of your readers. Unable to take a stand. Lots of conflicting thoughts and the very very nagging possibility of uncertainty. I mean, on one side I read stories like the ones you’ve linked wherein it looks like Euthanasia is the best option, but I also read /hear real-life stories of how some chronically ill person of 30 yrs miraculously got cured etc.. Leaves me thoroughly shaken.

    I know.. Such stories are so heart-rending.. that assisted suicide looks like the humane option.

    I however love the way you wrote. You have it all covered. Almost felt like it was a conversation!

    Thank you – it was tough for me to write on this – it is such a confusing topic, isn’t it?

  28. I feel that euthanasia is quite humane in some circumstances where the patient is in a vegetative state and the family of that person is not only going through emotional but financial and mental anguish each day. There is no closure for the family

    I know. It must be so tough on the family who has to see their loved one suffer. I agree about euthanasia being humane in some circumstances.. But then again, people do make miraculous recoveries..

    Also, people who are quite ill and have no chance of recovery and who themselves decide to end their life euthanasia is understandable.

    Yes, as it happened in Lynn’s case.

    The assisted suicide debate will go on as it just touches the realm of ‘Acting Like a God’ by taking someone’s life. In my opinion it should be legalised. Its an individuals choice to end his/own life. After all the law was made for us and no we for it…

    I am all confused on this – mainly because there are pros and cons and I just can’t decide which way is the right way.. What is right for one situation might not be for another, you know..

  29. I had read of this back in school… and i feel the same way about it as then – Will a legal system be able to determine what case is justified for mercy killing and what is not?

    That is the most difficult part. I have my doubts about a legal system being able to handle such issues.

    and sadly, i don;t have so much faith in the judicial system in our country 😐

    Yes, and not just the judicial system. With corruption where it is, these cases can easily be suppressed or misrepresented and made to look legal.

    cases where people are in coma… and also in addition, they may be cost to an already financially struggling famliy… it wud seem like a better option.

    I know.. It really should be a case to case thing, shouldn’t it? I mean there are so many things that need to be considered.

    then again, i have known of cases where the family doens’t wanna pull the plug becoz their hope doesn;t die… they believe the patient will recover..

    Yes, that happens too. Hope is such a great thing, isn’t it?
    the charges of murder, its so heartbreaking….

    how is it that a guy can rape a girl and roam the streets freely after serving few years, probably looking for a new victim… and a parent can be termed a criminal for having wished to stop their child’s suffering…

    I know! The injustice of it all. It is heartbreaking to say the least.

    i guess smithu, the decision is so very subjective to the case and ppl involved, it seems far more complicated to even imagine how legalising it will help…

    I agree. Each case is different and I think should be dealt that way.

    smithu, how’s the house hunt going? hope u find a perfect one soon 😀 with a fresh now couch for poohi to be an artist on!!!!!!

    House hunt is at a standstill for the moment – no new houses on the market – keeping fingers crossed.

    ‘with a fresh now couch for poohi to be an artist on!!!!!!’ – Yes indeed!

    *crafty and poohi flee from smithu’s sight*

    Yes you two better run 🙂

  30. It’s a tough one, but I would be in favour of euthanasia. Yes, like any law, especially in India, it will be open to misuse, and that’s a huge risk. But the question, IMO, that is the critical one is: can somebody other than the patient take the decision? While Kathleen’s case had its own dilemmas, I would call it a simpler case than Frances’s. At least in Kathleen’s case, the daughter made the decision. But could Frances take that decision for Tom? I respect her decision to do what she did, but then it’s a very difficult stand to take, isn’t it?

    I agree – Francis’s is far more complex. And I think that is the reason she got convicted – because her son did not authorize her to do it – she did it based on her own judgement. That must have been an incredibly tough decision to make – despite the fact that her family and Tom’s girlfriend were all in full support of her decision. Kathleen’s case was definitely much simpler because her daughter was so clear that she did not want to live.

    In cases where the patient themselves can make the decision – it is far simpler, but where somebody else has to take that decision – that is where the complexities increase and so does the risk of misuse of a law
    Quirky Indian

  31. Euthanasia is always a tough topic to write on. Couple of months back I had written one on Kerala Church going against it and then met a friends whose friend was put on hospice and they were talking about it. She was very disturbed at that time and she has my blog link so I refrained from posting it.

    For an argument I would definitely support Euthanasia than seeing people suffer in a vegetative form for years. But is it really my place to decide? Remember the Schiavo case? Husband wanted to go for it but her parents objected and there were so many legal issues, at last case went in his favor.

    I know – thats how I feel. How can we make that decision. Which is why getting a jury or a judge to decide is just as difficult. Yes, I remember the Schiavo case.. that was really complicated, wasn’t it?

    Would I ever opt for something like this for a loved one? I should but don’t know if I would.

    Neither do I.

  32. i understand that in some cases if ppl are very,very sick, living is a torture for them.. in such cases it may be better to end your life.. but stil the concept of euthanesia i find hard to agree to.. may be because in this case its a human being who takes an action to end someone’s life.. if we gave give someone life,we have no right to take it either, rt? but then does that mean u shud watch ur dear ones suffer day and night? …. i dont know.. i really dont..

    I know -it is so confusing, isn’t it?

  33. Wow, inspite of reading the post and going through all the comments, we are still at the same place – It is a difficult question and there isn’t just a right answer.

    There is no right answer, is there? I really wish there was an answer..

  34. a very tough decision to take….

    and many of us continue to blv in miracles…..recently there was one more case where this son came arnd after 20 years of being in a coma due to an accident.. it seems he was aware of everything but just couldnt communicate in anyway.. this made him so angry that finally when he came arnd he could express only his anger for a long time…

    Man Trapped In 23-Year ‘Coma’ Was Conscious
    1:10pm UK, Monday November 23, 2009

    Alex Watts, Sky News Online

    An engineering student thought to be in a coma for 23 years was actually conscious the whole time, it has emerged.

    “Houben’s case is likely to respark the right-to-die debate

    Rom Houben was misdiagnosed as being in a vegetative state after a car crash left him totally paralysed.

    For the whole time, he was trapped in his own body with no way of letting friends and family know he could hear every word they were saying.

    The 46-year-old, who can now tap out computerised messages and read books on a device above his hospital bed, has revealed: “I screamed, but there was nothing to hear.

    “All that time I literally dreamed of a better life. Frustration is too small a word to describe what I felt.

  35. 🙂 so you build a case and ask us the question, smart very smart and i’m sure none of the readers would take a side here, we are all clueless

    I wish 🙂 It is an issue that really confuses me, to be honest.

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