Euthanasia in films: The right to die has always been debated

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In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court has given legal sanction to passive euthanasia, permitting 'living will' by patients on withdrawing medical support if they slip into an irreversible coma.

Stating that human beings have the right to die with dignity, the Supreme Court (SC) today allowed passive euthanasia, but made sure to set out strict guidelines that will govern when it is permitted.

The topic of euthanasia has been a highly debated one, across the world. There have been a number of films which have dealt with the issue of mercy killing as well. Here’s a glance at how some of them portrayed the issue…

Guzaarish (2010)

This Sanjay Leela Bhansali directorial told the tale of a paralyzed magician-turned-radio jockey who files a petition in court seeking permission to end his life. In the film, the young man suffers spinal cord injury during a performance, and appeals for euthanasia. However, he is denied permission.
Bhansali's message was that euthanasia is about seeking the right to decide on one's life.

Hrithik Roshan who had essayed the lead role of Ethan Mascarenhas, had said, “Any act that ends consistent suffering in any form must be lauded. Mercy killing—in its passive version—must be allowed in cases that merit it. But a system needs to be set in place to process the information and make a decision... euthanasia will be a boon for those who are suffering to a degree which you and I cannot imagine.”

Waiting (2015)

This Indian drama film directed by Anu Menon focuses on the relationship between two people from different walks of life who befriend each other in a hospital, while nursing their respective comatose spouses. Tara (Kalki Koechlin) learns that her husband has a hematoma in his brain and an operation might help him recover, but it also carries the risk of partial paralysis. She believes Rajat would not want to take the risk, but eventually decides to go ahead with the operation. Shiv (Naseeruddin Shah), on the other hand, decides to take his wife Pankaja off the ventilator and let her make the final call herself.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

This film is about an under-appreciated boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), the mistakes that haunt him from his past, and his search for redemption by helping an underdog amateur boxer, Maggie achieves her dream of becoming a professional. Later, in the course of a bout, suffers an accident, breaking her neck and leaving her a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic. Eventually, she asks a favour of Frankie: to help her die, stating that she got everything she ever wanted out of life.

An Act of Murder (1948)

This film showed Judge Calvin Cooke, a tough-as-nails judge, facing the decision of his life. When his wife develops terminal brain cancer, his thinking undergoes a change. From the moral high road, he starts to think of mercy-killing her. The decision leaves Judge Cooke in a dilemma. Critics pointed out that beyond the personal drama, an endeavour was made to introduce a broad philosophical inquiry into the morality of 'mercy killing'.

Whose Life is It Anyway? (1981)

An artist (Richard Dreyfuss) and his lawyer (Bob Balaban) battle the courts for a legal petition for the right to suicide. It is opposed by his doctor and hospital staff, who have grown fond of the artist. The film tried to take an objective look at "the right to die," where characters intelligently portray both sides of the debate. The decision is finally left for a Judge’s courtroom to decide.

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