March 1, 2024

Autonomy or poverty?

Thanks to everyone who commented on our plans for a new-look newsletter. We are hoping to list only the first few lines of the stories. When you click on the headline you will be taken to the complete article in the newsletter. I’m afraid that we move at a glacial pace, but it will happen. Stay tuned.

About half of the articles in this week’s newsletter involve assisted suicide. We aren’t campaigning on the issue; several stories cropped up together. But taking advantage of this, I might make an observation on a news theme from India.

Abdul Rahim is an impoverished shoemaker from the northeastern state of Shillong. His three sons, aged 9, 14 and 16, all suffer from thalassemia and he has spent all of his money on cures, with little to show for it. According to the Hindustan Times, he has appealed to the judiciary for permission to euthanase them as he cannot care for them properly.

This is a story which crops up again and again in the Indian media. It is always the same. A poor father with a very sick child asks for euthanasia, not because the child is terminally ill, but because he doesn’t have money to relieve their suffering. None of these requests have been granted because India does not allow euthanasia. The request is more a call of desperation rather than a studied proposal based on patient autonomy and the absolute to self-determination. 

It seems a bit callous to draw  a moral from Abdul Rahim’s anguish, but it is relevant to those of us who live in more developed countries. Mr Rahim wants his sons to live but he simply cannot afford to care for them any longer. The only solution he can think of is killing them.

Similarly, in our societies the demand for euthanasia seems strongest where the social fabric is weakest. Care is expensive, time-consuming and exhausting. But the real solution is not euthanasia, but more support, both financial and social. If we were to legalise euthanasia, the poor and the isolated would eventually be the ones who take most advantage of it.


Michael Cook
Euthanasia in India