Kathmandu:

I passionately believe in freedom. Economic freedom makes a country and its people rich. Personal and social freedom, though difficult to value in monetary terms, enrich us by making life worth living.

If I can buy, sell and invest as I wish, I have the means to be rich. If I have the freedom to practice my religion, marry whom I want to, smoke and drink, and live and die as I wish when I harm no one else, then, I possess my birthright: freedom.

I can’t be free to live my life as I want to, without having the right to end it. Those who believe in freedom, can’t deny me the right to end my life. They may have a moral obligation to talk me out of it, but no more. There is rarely a person amongst you who would not, if he could, physically stop me from jumping off the seventh floor of ‘The Everest Hotel’ and persuade me to get psychiatric help. But let there be no doubt that, in the final analysis, the right to terminate my life is mine and mine alone.

Let us take this discussion one step further. What if I am unable to end my life on my own, but still want to die? I will have to find someone to assist me. If I do find such a person, should the law treat him as a murderer and jail him? No. Assisted suicide is suicide, and society and law should neither blame nor punish the abettor.

This is what freedom is about. You are comfortable with freedom only if you take it to its logical extreme, and not flinch. Freedom is not for the faint of heart.

How far is the world from freedom to end one’s life? Too far. Except for three countries and a single state in the US, attempted suicide and assisted suicide are punishable offenses. Let us look at how these countries, are taking us towards this goal of guaranteeing our right to die at a time and in a manner of our choosing.

Belgium allows me to ask for a doctor’s assistance in ending my life: I can do this only if I am an adult suffering mentally or physically. No alleviation of my condition should be possible, and my request must be voluntary, repeatedly made, and well considered. My doctor can then end my life provided he gets my request confirmed by another doctor. This is euthanasia or mercy killing, and is specifically allowed by the law. In 2004, there were 347 such cases.

Switzerland has similar laws. It allows assisted suicide under circumstances similar to Belgium’s with the added – and probably a superfluous – caveat that the assistance given for suicide must not bring any personal benefit, like gain from an inheritance. Switzerland has had this law since 1942. Dignitas, one of the country’s ‘right-to-die’ charities even helps foreigners to come to Switzerland to die. Over 450 people have done so, since Dignitas’s founding eight years ago.

Netherland is probably the most liberal. It allows assisted suicide even if I am not an adult and even if I am not terminally ill. Two doctors are however required to certify that the suffering is going to be chronic and unbearable, and that an option better than death doesn’t exist. As many as 1000 people exercise this option every year.

Besides these three countries, Oregon, a US state, too permits assisted suicide.

The law is very strict and doesn’t even permit the doctor to be in the room when the patient ends his life by taking a lethal dose of drugs. Only mentally competent adults with less than six months to live can make a request for euthanasia. Furthermore, two written requests at an interval of more than 15 days are needed. Not many people have obtained suicide assistance – just about 200 – since the law came into force in 1997.

Will Nepal be in the forefront of the SAARC countries and allow assisted suicide?

(The writer can be contacted at: everest@mos.com.np)