India – Newest Case of Person Demanding Treatment/Money or Euthanasia (“Your Money or My Life”)

Lately it seems like I’ve been drawing quite a bit on material from the Thaddeus Pope‘s Medical Futility Blog.

Mostly it’s because Pope is really good at digging out stories that fly under the radar of most of us. More than occasionally, he’ll write something that is too tempting to ignore.
That’s true with his latest blog entry, regarding the newest request by a citizen of India to be euthanized if they can’t get aid or treatment for the condition or disability they have.

Pope’s blog post can be found here:

Medical Futility Blog: Alka Tiwari: Give me a bone marrow transplant or give me death

From the blog:

On September 30th, Alka Tiwari filed a complaint in the courts of the Indian state Uttar Pradesh asking the government either (1) to provide funds for her treatment or (2) to allow physicians to administer a “poisonous injection” to get rid of the unbearable pain.

This is certainly not the profile of the typical patient utilizing the ODDA or WDDA. But this is exactly the sort of case that opponents of PAD legalization in other states suggest would be become increasingly common.

As Pope asserts, this is not the profile of a “typical” patient using the assisted suicide laws in Oregon and Washington states to end their lives.

This case is, however, very typical of the majority of euthanasia/”mercy killing” appeals that have made news in India over the past few years. I wrote about it back in 2008. Responding to the recommendations of a legal commission in India to legalize euthanasia on the grounds of “solace compassion, justice and humanism.” Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Trouble is, it ignores the reality of the rash of highly-publicized pleas for “mercy killings” put forth by families and individuals in India over the past few years. This is a fairly representative example:

KOLKATA: An ailing 40-year-old woman and her husband have written to the District Magistrate of North 24-Parganas seeking permission to undergo euthanasia, official sources said.
Swapna Das, suffering from a kidney disorder, and her husband Biswanath, a soccer coach at a local club, got married five years ago. The couple stated that they have decided to end their lives because they can not meet the cost of treating Das’ illness.

“We need Rs 6,000 for a dialysis and another Rs 3.5 lakh for a replacement,” Das said. Biswanath said they were currently dependent on neighbours’ help for her survival.

This couple is typical of the “mercy killing” pleas that have emerged in India. Central to virtually every story is the despair over the inability to get treatment, support or in some cases even adequate food and shelter.

But the Kerala Law Reforms Commission neatly ignored the economic and social factors that have been central to the plight of those who have sued for permission to kill themselves, a relative or be killed by a third party.

In almost every publicized case, the plea for euthanasia was lost, but the publicity forced the government to free up some resources for the suffering family or individual.

So, as Pope notes, that isn’t what we see in the US in terms of requests for assisted suicide right now.  But considering that there is a powerful political movement to shift in the US to make availability of health care dependent on one’s financial resources – to shift that availability even more to an income-based system than it is now.

If that happens, expect future groundbreaking requests for euthanasia to look a lot more like the ones that dominate the debate in India.  –Stephen Drake

Addendum – There’s really no name for these type of cases.  The individuals making these demands of the govt in India are generally desperate – desperate for medical and financial help most often.  They come across as a cross between robbery and hostage situations.  Although, instead of saying “Your money or your life,”  the person is handing the gun to the govt and saying “Your money or my life.”  And “your money or my life” seems as good a term as any to label these cases.