IN THEIR one-room-kitchen chawl in the Grant Road area of south Mumbai, Narayan Lavate (88) and Iravati Lavate (78) are hopeful that the President of India will respond to their plea seeking permission for active euthanasia or assisted suicide.
While neither Narayan nor Iravati have any ailment, the couple says the wish for assisted suicide was driven by the satisfaction of having lived a happy life and the idea to not depend on hospitals for old-age ailments. In addition, they said, the fear of one of them passing away while the other lives on led them to approach the President of India.
The Lavates said they have exhausted all legal means to end their lives through a physician-assisted death. They also became members of Switzerland-based Dignitas, a society that supports physician-assisted deaths as per legal provisions. While Iravati has a passport, Narayan was unable to process his and hence, he cannot travel to the country. “And I can’t die without him,” Iravati smiles.
The idea to opt for assisted suicide was Narayan’s, who retired in 1989 as a state transport officer. He learnt about KEM nurse Aruna Shanbaug’s case and started reading laws pertaining to euthanasia in various countries.
“There is a bill in the Parliament that talks about euthanasia for terminally ill patients. But that is passive euthanasia, I want active euthanasia. If there is right to life, there should be right to death. We have lived our life satisfactorily,” he says.
Iravati, who retired in 1997 as the principal of a school run by the Aryan Educational Society, said: “I am old and cannot even walk easily due to metro rail work here. My pension is enough to sustain us. But why wait till an illness affects us?”
The couple has also sent a draft of bill on euthanasia to NCP leaders, Sharad Pawar and Supriya Sule, former law minister Ram Jethmalani, Rajya Sabha member Karan Singh and Congress leader, Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Piles of documents under their wooden bed are of their years of research on euthanasia. A series of books on various laws fills up a shelf in their home.
In 2016, the Lavates became members of Dignitas. “But my passport is not getting renewed,” Narayan says. So, on December 21, they wrote a petition to the President of India.
In their self-drafted petition, the couple said: “The Petitioners would urge that it is unfair to compel them to wait till some serious ailment befalls on them.”
It adds that they “are of no use either to themselves or to the society” and “keeping them alive against their wish is wastage of scarce resources of country”.
In November 2017, the Supreme Court paved way for a discussion on a “living will” that allows a person to write an advanced directory for medical treatment. The judgment on it is expected in 2018.
Currently, The Medical Management of Patients with Terminal Illness – Withdrawal of Medical Life Support Bill, allows ending life support for patients but does not support a “living will”.
The Society of Right to Die with Dignity, that has 500 unofficial members and is the intervener in a petition on “living will”, was the first to suggest to the Lavates about Dignitas in Switzerland.
“We get a lot of calls from old people and families of terminally ill patients. But since it is illegal, there is little that these people can do,” says Surendra Dhelia, the joint secretary.
When the Lavates discussed the idea of euthanasia with their distant relatives, they oppose it. “They have children and responsibilities. But we have none, no liabilities,” Narayan said.
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