Bangladeshi father seeks mercy killing for terminally ill sons and grandson -- and sparks debate about euthanasia

Tofazzal Hossain, a fruit vendor from a rural area in Bangladesh, begged for permission to kill his two sons and grandson who suffer from an incurable form of muscular dystrophy.

He said, "I have taken care of them for years. I took them to hospitals in Bangladesh and India, I sold my shop to pay for their treatment but now I'm broke.

"The government should decide what it wants to do with them. They are suffering and have no hope of recovery. I can't bear it any longer."

Hossain wrote to his local district administration and pleaded to either help care for his beloved 24-year-old and 13-year-old son, along with his eight-year-old grandson, or "allow them to be put to death with medicine."

Bangladesh is one of Asia's poorest countries and lacks any kind of free health care and medical treatment that is often inaccessible to the poor.

An estimated 60,000 Bangladeshis suffers from incurable diseases and yet the country has only one palliative care centre and no hospice services which leaves few treatment options for Hossain's sons and grandson who are diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Patients with this rare genetic disorder are characterised by progressive muscle degeneration and often does not live beyond 30 years of age.

According to Agence France-Presse (AFP) via AsiaOne, Hossain's sons can only do so much for themselves as they are unable to move and are confined to their beds.

His grandson can still go to the washroom but his condition is deteriorating.

Hossain said, "I told them about the letter. I told them (about seeking permission for their deaths). 

"They did not take it seriously. Perhaps they did not understand the severity of the situation."

His eldest son, 24-year-old Mohammad Abdus Sabur mentioned that he spent his days watching television and talking with his father. 

"I tell father not to worry too much," he told AFP.

An AFP correspondent tried to ask the son about his father's letter but was forbidden by Hossain who mentioned how it would hurt his sons and grandson.

Mahbubul Alam, a doctor who has treated the Hossain family confirmed that there was no cure for their condition and they lived in extreme pain. 

A government official who visited the family after Hossain's appeal became sensational said the request was "the plea of a helpless father."

He added, "He asked for their medical assistance, or permission to kill them. But who will give the permission to kill?"

Authorities were trying to find ways to help Hossain bear the cost of their care, according to the official.

Their plight has sparked a debate about euthanasia in Bangladesh where even attempted suicide can lead someone to jail.

"Mercy killing" is forbidden under the secular law of the land as well as by religious code adhered to by the Muslim-majority population.

A top Islamic cleric and scholar mentioned, "Euthanasia is completely illegal in Islam. It is the government's duty to take responsibility for every citizen."

Nur Khan Liton, head of local rights group Ain O Salish Kendra said that the overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis not only disapprove of mercy killings but would even oppose the discussion of it.

He said, "They consider it an act of murder. It's the duty of the government and society to look after these victims."

Social media, however, have sympathised with Hossain's family and many have offered thoughts and prayers amid calls for the government to improve its paltry health services.

Nezamuddin Ahmed, the head of Bangladesh's sole palliative care centre in the capital Dhaka, said it was time for an "honest discussion" about the issue and improving care for those suffering from incurable diseases.

He added,"I think this will lead to healthy debate about assisted death.

"But before launching into this, the government should strengthen palliative care services here. 

"There has to be something we can all do to ease the suffering of these helpless people."