I’m not clear on the morality of it. I’m not clear on the legality of it. I’m not sure what would be the “right” thing to do when you look at the bigger picture. But this is ridiculous.
For 37 years, you lie on a bed, comatose and brain dead. If you were to revive, you probably couldn’t speak, and you’d be blind. And you’d have to deal with the vicious assault that left you in this state in the first place. If you revived and decided to live anyway, you’d still be a vegetable. I don’t know how long it would take for muscles that hadn’t been used for 37 years to learn to move again, but if it could be done, then you’d be a moving vegetable. But to what end, anyway? At the age of 62, having been for all practical purposes dead for 37 years, what would you do if you came back to life? You can’t work. You can’t marry the man you were going to marry 37 years ago. You don’t know about TV and the Internet and that Indira Gandhi was assassinated and… so much other stuff that I don’t even know where to start. You would be a ghost, really. And, what’s worse, a vegetative ghost. Waking up wouldn’t be much better than being comatose, not for you.
Wikipedia doesn’t mention it, but one of the newspaper articles recently mentioned that Aruna Shanbaug, the woman I am (and many others are) talking about, is fed by a tube to the stomach, but does not have an enema. If that means what I think it means, it means that what goes in the tube comes out in the form of bowel movements. Since she presumably can’t consciously control the bowel movement, much less ask for a bed pan, she is left to… soil herself?
And yet, the hospital nurses protested against the euthanasia plea and claimed that she is like family to them. She is like a piece of furniture, more likely. How can she be family to people who never even knew her when she was alive? These are not people who were around 37 years ago. These are people to whom she is just a thing, lying there, requiring periodic maintenance, unable to communicate in any way.
There was a news article a while ago that said some comatose people were still able to think and understand in their brain – they just couldn’t communicate it. They did an experiment in which a man was instructed to think of himself walking through his home, visualizing each room. A brain scan showed activity in those areas that would be expected to be activated by this activity. It was a startling report. Did it mean we’d already pulled the plug on so many people whose brains were actually still functioning? People who could hear and think and want to say something but were just unable to actually say it? People who were either desperately afraid or desperately relieved when someone took the decision to put them out of their comatose state.
To me it is inconceivable that after being comatose and – in the case of Aruna Shanbaug – vegetative for so many years, one might actually want to prolong that state of being. Would there still be a desire to live, after 37 years of nothingness? Would there still be thoughts to be thought in that vegetative brain? Would there be desire? Would I, for instance, still long to hear voices I once knew, or to touch someone’s hand? Would I still want to eat an ice cream? Would I remember what it felt like to eat, what an ice cream tasted like? Would there still be words in my mind? Images?
What about pain? One report mentioned that she is constantly in pain. Another mentioned that she is not given any pain killers. Another said they haven’t done any scan on her recently. Do scans show whether a patient is in pain? If her brain is severely damaged, how can we know whether she is in pain or not? Does a vegetative brain know how to feel and communicate pain? And if it does, then what does pain feel like after 37 years of unremitting pain? What does hunger feel like? What does loneliness and boredom feel like?
In the absence of stimulus of any kind, does ageing slow down? If it does, Aruna Shanbaug might be expected to live till a hundred and thirty. After all, there’s no stress on any of her systems – why shouldn’t they go on for ever, with a little help from the medical community? They can add bits and pieces of a life support system as each of her internal systems begins to pack up. In the end, you’ll have a leathery skin casing, inside which a bunch of machines all work together to keep the basic metabolic and respiratory functions going. Then death might actually amount to an electrical malfunction between the systems.
I don’t understand what these people are trying to do. If you left this body alone, it would die. If you think that by keeping it alive you are doing it any favours, you are wrong. Dying, after all, is inevitable. You can only defer it, you can’t defeat it. There are things worse than death.
Folks – get a life. Aruna Shanbaug is gone. You should have let her die with dignity years ago and you should have tried her assailant for murder. That might have been of greater consolation to any thinking person than this senseless prolonging of nothingness. Whatever you do with this vegetative brain now is not for her sake, it’s for some complicated (and rather perverted) motive of your own. Find something else to look after – a cat, a dog, a vegetable garden. Let this one go.
PS: If it ever becomes legal to take a person’s conscious, declared desire into account while taking a decision on euthanasia, please consider this to be mine. I don’t want to become a machine-operated vegetable. If you, my friends and family, believe that I will never regain consciousness; if, after everything has been tried, it is clear that I’m either vegetative or permanently comatose, that either way I’m doomed to a life of eternal nothingness; please pull the plug on me. I may be wrong – when I’m in that state, I may not mind so much and I may want to go on living even like that. But that’s a chance I’m willing to take, because the other option is so completely unthinkable. I’m an impatient, restless, active, and most importantly, an expressive, communicative person. I don’t want to spend 37 years imprisoned in my body, alone with my thoughts, waiting, waiting, waiting for someone to realize that it’s ok to let me go.