2 FEBRUARY 2016
Towards a law on euthanasia
The time for legislation to deal with euthanasia has come. The Union government has now informed a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court that its experts are examining a draft Bill proposed by the Law Commission in its 241st report. However, it has been advised by the Law Ministry to hold back its enactment now, as the matter is pending before the court. Over a decade ago, the government felt that legislation on euthanasia would amount to doctors violating the Hippocratic Oath and that they should not yield to a patient's "fleeting desire out of transient depression" to die. The government's latest stand represents forward movement in the quest for a legislative framework to deal with the question whether patients who are terminally ill and possibly beyond the scope of medical revival can be allowed to die with dignity. The question was raised with a great deal of passion in the case of Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who lay in a vegetative state in a Mumbai hospital between 1973 and 2015. In a landmark 2011 verdict that was notable for its progressive, humane and sensitive treatment of the complex interplay of individual dignity and social ethics, the Supreme Court laid down a broad legal framework. It ruled out any backing for active euthanasia, or the taking of a specific step such as injecting the patient with a lethal substance, to put an end to a patient's suffering, as that would be clearly illegal. It allowed ‘passive euthanasia', or the withdrawal of life support, subject to safeguards and fair procedure. It made it mandatory that every instance should get the approval of a High Court Bench, based on consultation with a panel of medical experts.
The question now before a Constitution Bench on a petition by the NGO Common Cause is whether the right to live with dignity under Article 21 includes the right to die with dignity, and whether it is time to allow ‘living wills', or written authorisations containing instructions given by persons in a healthy state of mind to doctors that they need not be put on life-support systems or ventilators in the event of their going into a persistent vegetative state or state of terminal illness. The government's reply shows that the Directorate-General of Health Services has proposed legislation based on the recommendations of an Experts' Committee. The experts have not agreed to active euthanasia because of its potential for misuse and have proposed changes to a draft Bill suggested by the Law Commission. However, there seems to be no support for the idea of a ‘living will', as the draft says any such document will be ‘void' and not binding on any medical practitioner. It is logical that it should be so, as the law will be designed specifically to deal with patients not competent to decide for themselves because of their medical condition. This has to be tested against the argument that giving those likely to drift into terminal illness an advance opportunity to make an informed choice will help them avoid "cruel and unwanted treatment" to prolong their lifespan. To resolve this conflict between pain and death, the sooner that a comprehensive law on the subject is enacted, the better it will be for society.
For a sport reeling from allegations of fixing, tennis needed the restoration of a semblance of normalcy. And few things have been as normal these last few years as Novak Djokovic holding a trophy aloft. So the Australian Open received the finish it so desperately wanted after its start was hit by the BBC and BuzzFeed expos?.Djokovic never let his focus waver in sweeping to his sixth title in Melbourne, tying Roy Emerson's record for the most Australian Open crowns. The win was further evidence of the 28-year-old Serb's dominance. He has won four of the last five Grand Slams, including the three most recent. In 10 of his 11 career Major victories, he has defeated Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray, the other members of the Big Four. He has mastered each of these great men in 6-1 first sets this year and won 17 of his last 18 matches against Top 10 opposition. On current form, Djokovic has no peer; indeed, the rest of the field will need a significant step up if they are to even begin to stretch him. He doesn't merely enjoy a considerable athletic edge over everyone else - the consistent depth and penetration of his ball-striking from the baseline has never been surpassed in the game's history. Consider that he has continued to make technical and tactical improvements to his play, becoming more ruthless and clinical in the process, and it is clear his ambition continues to burn bright. Indeed, he spoke after his win of getting back to work after a short celebration.
Sport advances in iteration, but perhaps never before in men's tennis have three of the finest, most dominant champions succeeded each other so quickly. Djokovic now stands where only a few, Federer and Nadal among them, have stood before. A sense of how difficult it is to maintain such superiority may be had from the women's game. Serena Williams has appeared just as peerless over a similar period, but one match in which anxiety reduced her level and a brave, inspired opponent elevated hers proved the difference between a Major won and one lost. Angelique Kerber's triumph will conveniently be classed as a fairy-tale run. But 28-year-olds who have never before reached Slam finals don't do it on a wing and a prayer. They do it because they finally realise failure's transformative potential; because they are willing then to stake every last bit of their being on what looks to others a long shot. In defeating Serena - still one short of Steffi Graf's Open Era record of 22 Majors, but with at least as strong a case for being considered the greatest ever - and the formidable Victoria Azarenka, Kerber pulled off an extraordinary coup under severe pressure. Another variation of the theme of dominance came in the women's doubles. SaniaMirza and Martina Hingis claimed their third successive Grand Slam title together, extending their winning streak on tour to 36 matches. Like Djokovic and Serena, they will look at the remainder of 2016 covetously - as an opportunity to enhance their legacy.