A hotly debated topic in the United States currently is whether or not a person has the right to die (sometimes known as death with dignity or assisted suicide) when he or she has received a terminal illness. This usually only happens in the most extreme cases, when a person has no hope of recovery and is likely to endure a slow and painful death. The person will generally receive a pill or a combination of pills which will painlessly stop the heart. Once the medication is taken, it doesn't take long before the person falls into a peaceful sleep, never to awaken.
For both the patient and the loved one, this can be a comforting option. Few people want to endure pointless pain and torture only to die at the end. Many cancers and other terminal illnesses have the ability to deteriorate a person's health to the point where it is difficult to even take a breath. These illnesses can also affect mental function and make it difficult for the person to remember who he or she is or what is happening. This can be unnerving for both the patient and the people around him or her. Having the option to end one's life before these terrifying symptoms hit give the person and the family a chance to enjoy the last few days, weeks, or months.
One of the most closely followed stories in the United States regarding the right to die was that of Brittany Maynard. At the age of 29, Maynard was devastated to hear she had a brain tumor that would end her life in only a matter of months. Right before the diagnosis, she and her husband (who she had married a little over a year before) were trying to start a family. Hearing the prognosis from the doctor was terrifying for Maynard and her family. Not only did the six-month prognosis take away the vast majority of her life, it was also going to be a painful decline and death. Because of this, she moved to Oregon from California. Dying with dignity is legal in Oregon, but not in California. Had she let the tumor take her life, she would have experienced:
Increased exhaustion Debilitating pain Seizures Losing her ability to talk following her seizures
These moments were beginning to happen shortly before her death. On November 1, 2014, the date she had selected months before, she took the pills and died peacefully surrounded by family and friends. Some people applauded her decision, while others condemned it.
Sallekhana is a common practice in the Jainism religion. Jainism, a religion in India with ties to Hinduism, regularly practice this form of dying when one has received a terminal diagnosis. However, the process is quite different there than it is for people in the Western world. Instead of taking certain medications to peacefully and quickly end their life, people who practice Sallekhana do so by refusing to eat or drink in their final days or weeks. Ultimately, they die from dehydration and it is seen as a holy way of dying.
While this has been a practice for many years in the Jainism religion, that may soon change. Some in India are looking at the religious tradition as glorified suicide, and there may be laws soon put in place that could get rid of Sallekhana altogether. There are laws against suicide in India, and some feel that the law is being violated by those who participate in Sallekhana. The debate shows a disconnect between those in the Jainism religion and the Indian government. Many are curious to see what happens with the ruling and how it will affect the future of Jainism.