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Right To Die

Written by: Foram Thakar - 2nd Year Student of B.A.LL.B.(Hons.), Institute of Law, Nirma University (ILNU)
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“Every person shall have the right to die with dignity; this right shall include the right to choose the time of one’s death and to receive medical and pharmaceutical assistance to die painlessly. No physician, nurse or pharmacist shall be held criminally or civilly liable for assisting a person in the free exercise of this right.”- International Herald Tribune

‘Many patients on respirators are not conscious and so cannot say whether they want to live or die. But Piergiorgio Welby is still full of words, hard and touching ones, that may be changing the way Italy thinks about euthanasia and other choices for the sick to end their own lives.’- New York Times (December 20, 2006)
The Montana Supreme Court is poised to make Montana the third state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The upcoming opinion, if the Court upholds a lower court’s ruling from last year, would make Montana the first state to enshrine the right in its constitution.
Right in INDIA:
Constitution is a social document. It is the society in its political aspect. We can't understand its nature without understanding the chief characteristics of the society. If the constitution is such that it has taken into its consideration, the social set up, then only will it stand the test of time. constitution and society grows, develops together and gets intertwined in each other. The constitution takes into account change and developments in the society. They are:
a) Right to education
b) Right to clean environment
c) Right to lif
d) Right to go abroad.
e) Right to privacy.
f) Right against solitary confinement.

Ours is a democracy which means that it is by the people, of the people and for the people. Constitution locates power that resides in the people. It is the people's power for people's benefit. Constitution creates rights and duties. All most all our demands get converted into rights-even our feelings, emotions is governed by the rights and duties we have. As we have got the right to live life with all dignity so we should also have right to die as when it is necessary by law in certain situation.

In India, the sanctity of life has been placed on the highest pedestal. " The right to life" under Article 21 of the Constitution has received the widest possible interpretation under the able hands of the judiciary and rightly so. This right is inalienable and is inherent in us. It cannot and is not conferred upon us. This vital point seems to elude all those who keep on clamoring for the "Right to Die".

It is humbly submitted that the implementation of the above mechanism in India is utopian and thus the two situations incomparable.It is ironical to note that ninety percent of the patients succumb to death without receiving any primary health care. Thus the logical derivation of this aspect would be that India does not have an appropriate health-care mechanism in place, let alone foolproof procedures for euthanasia.

In the presence of the above bottlenecks and policing rampant in our country, the appropriate course of action would be to develop proper "care ethics", ensuring a "dignified existence and termination" of life. Let us augment the above and resultantly, the concept of euthanasia will be nothing but a distant reality.

A debate exists among ethicists whether the right to die is universal, or only applies under certain circumstances--such as terminal illness. A court in the American state of Montana, for example, has found that the right to die applies to those with life-threatening medical conditions. Suicide advocate Ludwig Minelli and bioethics professor Jacob Appel, in contrast, argue that all competent people have a right to end their own lives. Appel has suggested that the right to die is a useful litmus test for the overall freedom of a given society.

The Society for Right to Die With Dignity and the All-India Body of Medical Practitioners in Critical Care Medicine on Thursday filed a petition before the Supreme Court urging that the right to die be made legal in the country. Recently, the Law Commission of India and the law reforms panel in Kerala had suggested that euthanasia, or mercy killing, be made legal.

After senior advocate V A Mohta filed the application seeking urgent directions, the Bench headed by Justice B N Agrawal agreed to examine it. But the Bench, also comprising Justices G S Singhvi and Aftab Alam, tagged the case along with a pending petition filed by NGO Common Cause which also raises similar questions of law.

“Every individual has a fundamental freedom to choose not to live and particularly so under distressing conditions of ill-health which lead to an unremediable state,” the new petition said. Like the earlier PIL, it has also named Union ministries of Health and Law and Justice as parties to decide whether the right to refuse essential medical support systems to prolong the life of a person afflicted with terminal disease can be legalised.

On May 11, 2005, the apex court had asked the two ministries whether a person, afflicted with terminal disease, should be given the right to refuse being put on life support system after medical experts declare that he or she has reached a point of no return.

Senior advocate Mohta, who was the former chief justice of Orissa High Court, told The Indian Express how bringing a legislation in this regard would prevent its misuse. He cited examples of several countries like the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia where legislations were in place to assist terminally ill patients.

Why Not To Give The Right:
At first one might be shocked to learn just how many healthy of mind and body elderly people are thinking about choosing this option, when it suits them to finish their life with dignity, with all their mental faculties in tact and without pain or loss of dignity. We all know how distressing it is to witness a loved one deteriorate into dementia, or for someone who has suffered a stroke, to be so physically affected that they no longer have any quality of life. The loss of dignity and total lack of quality for some old people in our nursing homes is heart wrenching. It seems after a full, rich, long life, a person ought to have the right to choose when the time to go has come and have a chance to celebrate their life before they are gone, or have lost the ability to do so. After all we do so for our beloved pets so they will not suffer. We let them go to sleep without pain, trauma and in peace.

Many old people take their own lives in the end and some in dreadfully violent or unpleasant ways, simply because the means to do so in a peaceful way was not available to them. Should we make the means available to them? This is the question that riddles this dilemma? How do we advocate a peaceful "passing"? We cannot! It is against all our human beliefs in the preservation of life at all cost, but do we really think about or measure that cost to the individual in terms of the pain they may be suffering or worse their loss of dignity?
Assisted suicide is the process by which an individual, who may otherwise be incapable, is provided with the means (drugs or equipment) to commit suicide. In some cases, the terms aid in dying or death with dignity are preferred.[1] These terms are often used to draw a distinction from suicide; in some legal jurisdictions, "suicide" (whether assisted or not) remains illegal, while "aid in dying" is permitted.

The term euthanasia refers to an act that ends a life in a painless manner, performed by someone other than the patient. This may include withholding common treatments resulting in death, removal of the patient from life support, or the use of lethal substances or forces to end the life of the patient.

Assisted suicide dates all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome when many people preferred to die by their own will than to live in pain. During these times, people would usually consult with a doctor to hear the course of their ailment and then decide whether to end their own life. This became controversial when the use of the Hippocratic Oath was introduced. The belief of Christianity that every life was a gift from God also added to the controversy.

In the 1600s, Francis Bacon stated that he thought part of a physician’s duty was to alleviate pain, even if that means death. The use of anesthetics and morphine to end a patient’s life was introduced by Samuel Williams in 1870 while addressing the Birmingham Speculative Club. His speech became very popular and was often quoted and reviewed. Lawyers and social scientists joined the discussion of physician-assisted suicide in the 1890s. Many lawyers supported it by saying that patients deserved the right to choose to live or die. Many physicians were against assisting suicide because they thought it would bring the medical profession a bad name and discredit them. Among supporters of assisted suicide, an ongoing debate exists as to whether it should be available to all competent individuals, or only the terminally ill.

Legality by other countries:
Assisted suicide was legal in Australia for a period, but now is not. In 1995, the world's first euthanasia legislation, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995, was passed in the Northern Territory of Australia. Four patients died under the Act, using a euthanasia device designed by Dr Philip Nitschke. The legislation was overturned by Australia’s Federal Parliament in 1997. In response to the overturning of the Act, Dr Nitschke founded Exit International.

The controversy over legalizing euthanasia and physician assisted suicide is not as big as in the United States because of the country's “’well developed hospice care program.” However, in 2000 the controversy over the uncontroversial topic was ignited with Vincent Humbert. After a car crash that left him “unable to ‘walk, see, speak, smell or taste’”, he used the movement of his right thumb to write a book, I Ask the Right to Die (Je Vous Demande le Droit de Mourir) in which he voiced his desire to “die legally.” After his appeal was denied, his mother assisted in killing him by injecting him with an overdose of barbiturates that put him into a coma, killing him 2 days later. Though his mother was arrested for aiding in her son’s death and later acquitted, the case did jumpstart a new legislation which states that when medicine serves “no other purpose than the artificial support of life” they can be “suspended or not undertaken”

Despite its strict Roman Catholic history, in May 1997 Colombian courts allowed for the euthanasia of sick patients who requested to end their lives. This ruling came about due to the efforts of a group that strongly opposed euthanasia. When one of their members brought a lawsuit to the Colombian Supreme Court against it, the court issued a 6 to 3 decision that “spelled out the rights of a terminally person to engage in voluntary euthanasia.”

Though physician assisted suicide is legal, the country has no way to document or set rules and regulations for doctors and patients that want to end their lives. Though it is opposed on religious grounds by many Colombians, many patients have still been able to find doctors to assist them in ending their lives.

United Kingdom
Evidence shows that assisted dying is rare in the UK. In a survey of 8857 physicians, the proportion of UK deaths involving voluntary euthanasia (0.21%; CI: 0–0.52), physician-assisted dying (0.00%) and ending of life without an explicit request from the patient (0.30%; CI: 0–0.60) was very low.

United StatesAssisted suicide is legal in the three American states of Oregon (via the Oregon Death with Dignity Act ), Washington (by Washington Initiative 1000), and Montana (through a trial court ruling). There are relatively substantial barriers to the use of some of these provisions.

For instance, Oregon requires a physician to prescribe medication but it must be self-administered. The prognosis must be for a life span of 6 months or less. The person must be a 'resident' of Oregon. A written request for prescription and two oral requests from the patient is also needed to escape criminal liability, plus written confirmation by doctor that the act is voluntary and informed. This limited model has withstood Constitutional scrutiny: Gonzales v Oregon 368 F. 3d 1118 (2004), affirmed by 546 U.S. 243 (2006)

Thus, it can be said that, “If there is no life with human touch or dignity than people should be allowed even right to die.”

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