On a visit to Friendicoes, the animal shelter I am associated with, some time back, a severely mangled puppy was brought in. Its spine was broken, intestines ruptured, and badly lacerated. It whimpered in pain. The person who brought the poor little mite in was, to my mind, definitely a kind and decent human being. Majority out here would have looked the other way. I am frequently questioned very sarcastically as to why, in a country which is seeped in poverty and collateral suffering in humans, I focus on animal rights and welfare. I used to get very angry and upset with the question. I would retaliate. Now, I don’t . I try my best to explain that human rights and animal rights are not mutually exclusive. And then go about doing what my heart tells me to do.
Let me continue with the story. My very wonderful vet, examined the puppy, and said that it should be put to sleep. There was no chance of it recovering from the severe injuries and one should not prolong its suffering. The man refused to do so. He said that it would be a sin to resort to mercy killing and the vet should give it the best treatment. My vet again patiently told him that nothing could be done about the pup.Its life was slowly and painfully ebbing away.The cries of the pup were heartrending, his eyes were glazed with pain, as I stood and heard this conversation. When I spoke to the man, who was rapidly getting angry, he told me that he would not sign the mandatory euthanasia form. That it was a sin.Minutes passed. I told him that I would sign the form and take all responsibility for it. If it was a sin,then the moral responsibility was mine. He gave up the pup. I held that little broken body in my arms as my vet put it to sleep, quickly and painlessly.
Over the years of my association with animal welfare/rights/rescue/adoption, there have been times when I have had to take similar decisions. It is hard.It leaves me feeling very empty and broken. But I have never regretted it. For I believe that sometimes it is more compassionate to let go. It is a sin if one allows a suffering life to continue without dignity.
When Aruna Shanbaug died on 18 May 2015, the nation remembered her once again.Ironically after 42 years. The judgement which denied euthanasia to her, despite acknowledging that she was in a persistent vegetative state, also ironically began with the lines of Mirza Ghalib : “Marte hain aarzoo mein marne ki Maut aati hai par nahin aati”.
Excerpt of the case:
Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug was a staff Nurse working in King Edward Memorial Hospital, Parel, Mumbai. On the evening of 27th November, 1973 she was attacked by a sweeper in the hospital who wrapped a dog chain around her neck and yanked her back with it. He tried to rape her but finding that she was menstruating, he sodomized her. To immobilize her during this act he twisted the chain around her neck. The next day on 28th November, 1973 at 7.45 a.m. a cleaner found her lying on the floor with blood all over in an unconscious condition. Due to strangulation by the dog chain the supply of oxygen to the brain stopped and the brain got damaged.”
Since that fateful day in 1973, Aruna lay in this cot , cut off from the world, battling physical suffering and demons of the mind,for 42 years. No one from her family was ever there with her. She was cared for as a patient by the staff of KEM hospital.
I read that “In an annual ritual, each and every batch of nursing students was ( is) introduced to Ms. Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug, and ( was) is told that “She was one of us”; “She was a very nice and efficient staff nurse but due to the mishap she is in this bed-ridden state”. I had also read that “Occasionally, when there are many people in the room she made (makes) vocal sounds indicating distress.” I cannot help but think whether this room near ward No- 7 was a zoo?
Would it not have been more compassionate and humane to allow her a death with dignity ? Or was it as Gabriel Garcia Marquez says ” we lack the moral authority to endorse them (acts of euthanasia). What we do instead is what you have just seen. We commend the dying to Saint Hubert and tie them to a pillar in order to prolong and intensify their suffering.” ( Of Love & Other Demons)
There has always been debate in the world about euthanasia. The pitfalls are many. But perhaps, it really needs to be approached with great caution, great compassion and great dignity. In both humans and animals.