"One should die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly
Euthanasia, a complex and controversial topic, has spurred significant debate
and discussion worldwide. This article explores the ethical considerations and
legal perspectives surrounding euthanasia, examining its implications on patient
autonomy, compassion, and the sanctity of life.
Drawing on a review of existing
literature and legal frameworks, the article provides an overview of the
historical background of euthanasia, tracing its evolution from ancient times to
the present. It delves into the contrasting viewpoints of proponents and
opponents, analysing arguments related to human dignity, suffering, quality of
life, and the role of medical professionals.
Furthermore, the article discusses
the legal landscape of euthanasia across different jurisdictions, highlighting
key legislative frameworks and landmark cases that have shaped the contemporary
understanding of this issue. Additionally, the article explores the potential
challenges and ethical dilemmas faced by healthcare providers and policymakers
when grappling with end-of-life decisions.
By examining the multifaceted
dimensions of euthanasia, this article seeks to foster a comprehensive
understanding of the subject, allowing readers to critically assess the ethical
implications and legal complexities associated with this profoundly sensitive
Euthanasia is the act of intentionally ending the life of a person who is
suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, typically with the
consent of the individual or their legal representative. It is often referred to
as "mercy killing" or "assisted suicide." Euthanasia can be categorized into two
main types: voluntary euthanasia, which involves the patient's explicit consent,
and involuntary euthanasia, which occurs without the patient's consent.
practice of euthanasia is highly controversial and raises ethical, moral, and
legal considerations in many countries around the world. Laws regarding
euthanasia vary greatly across different jurisdictions. "Euthanasia is a grave
decision that raises profound ethical, medical, and legal considerations. It
challenges us to carefully balance the principles of compassion, autonomy, and
sanctity of life."
The concept of euthanasia, meaning "good death" or "mercy killing," has a long
history dating back to ancient civilizations. In ancient Greece and Rome,
discussions surrounding euthanasia took place, with some philosophers like Plato
and Seneca supporting the idea of a painless death for those with incurable
However, these discussions did not translate into widespread
acceptance or formal practices. While During the Middle Ages, influenced by
religious beliefs and the sanctity of life, euthanasia was generally condemned.
The Hippocratic Oath, an ethical guideline for physicians, explicitly prohibited
doctors from administering deadly drugs.
18th and 19th Centuries: Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire and Rousseau
began challenging the traditional stance on euthanasia. The concept of personal
autonomy gained prominence, leading to some advocacy for the right to die with
The 20th century saw significant developments in the discussion around
euthanasia. In 1935, euthanasia gained public attention when the Euthanasia
Society of England was founded to advocate for voluntary euthanasia.
International ethical guidelines, such as the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration
of Geneva, emphasized the protection of human life. Since the mid-20th century,
the discussion on euthanasia has intensified.
Various countries have grappled
with the legal and ethical aspects of euthanasia, resulting in different
approaches. Some jurisdictions have legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide
under specific conditions, while others maintain a prohibition or have
established guidelines for end-of-life care.
Active euthanasia refers to the intentional act of causing the death of a
person, typically through the administration of a lethal substance or the
performance of a deliberate action. It involves a conscious decision and direct
intervention by another person, often a healthcare professional, with the
intention of ending the patient's life to alleviate suffering or in response to
their explicit request.
Proponents of active euthanasia argue that it can be a compassionate and ethical
choice in certain circumstances. They maintain that it allows individuals to
have control over their own lives and deaths, especially when facing unbearable
pain or terminal illnesses. Active euthanasia is seen as a means to relieve
suffering quickly and directly, providing a humane and dignified option for
those who are enduring immense physical or emotional distress.
However, opponents of active euthanasia raise several ethical concerns. They
argue that intentionally causing the death of another person violates the
sanctity of life and undermines the principles of medical ethics, which
prioritize the preservation and promotion of life. They express concerns about
potential abuses and the potential for slippery slopes, where the practice could
expand beyond the intended boundaries, potentially jeopardizing vulnerable
The legality of active euthanasia varies across different countries
and jurisdictions. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia,
and Canada, have laws in place that permit or decriminalize certain forms of
active euthanasia under specific conditions. In contrast, many other countries
consider active euthanasia as illegal or highly restricted, allowing only for
passive euthanasia (withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment).
It is to be remembered that discussions and decisions related to active
euthanasia involve complex ethical, moral, legal, and cultural considerations.
These discussions should involve careful reflection, empathy, and respect for
different perspectives, as well as a focus on ensuring robust safeguards and
regulations to protect the autonomy and well-being of individuals involved.
In active euthanasia, a healthcare professional or another authorized person
takes an active role in carrying out the act that leads to the person's death.
This could involve administering a lethal dose of medication or performing a
procedure to bring about death, such as injecting a medication or using a device
to assist with the person's death.
The legal and ethical status of active
euthanasia varies across countries and jurisdictions. Some countries have laws
that allow or regulate active euthanasia, while others consider it illegal. The
views on active euthanasia are highly debated, and different societies have
different perspectives on this issue.
Passive euthanasia refers to the withholding or withdrawal of medical treatment
or life-sustaining measures from a person with a terminal or irreversible
condition, with the intention of allowing them to die naturally. It involves the
decision to cease or not initiate medical interventions that are deemed to be
burdensome, futile, or disproportionate to the expected outcome, such as
artificial ventilation, feeding tubes, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Unlike active euthanasia, passive euthanasia does not involve a direct action to
cause death. Instead, it allows the person's natural progression of the disease
or condition to take its course without intervening to prolong their life. It's
important to note that the decision to withhold or withdraw treatment in cases
of passive euthanasia must be made in accordance with ethical guidelines and
legal frameworks, which vary across countries and jurisdictions.
In some cases,
the decision may require the consent of the patient, their family, or a legal
representative. The aim of passive euthanasia is to respect the patient's
autonomy and avoid unnecessary suffering by refraining from interventions that
would only prolong their suffering without providing significant benefit.
the central arguments supporting euthanasia is the idea that individuals should
have the right to make decisions about their own lives, including the choice to
end their suffering if they are facing unbearable pain or a terminal illness.
Respecting autonomy is a fundamental principle of ethics and personal freedom.
The key distinction in passive euthanasia is that it involves the omission or
cessation of medical interventions rather than the direct administration of
lethal substances or deliberate actions. Examples of passive euthanasia may
include discontinuing life support, withholding or withdrawing artificial
nutrition and hydration, or refraining from initiating certain medical
Advocates of passive euthanasia argue that it respects the principle of autonomy
and allows patients to die with dignity. They contend that in cases where
medical interventions would only prolong suffering without offering a reasonable
chance of recovery or improvement in the patient's condition, allowing natural
death can be a compassionate choice.
Opponents of passive euthanasia raise concerns about the moral and ethical
implications of withholding or withdrawing treatment. They argue that
intentionally causing or hastening death, even indirectly, goes against the
principle of preserving life and can be seen as a form of abandonment or
neglect. They emphasize the importance of providing palliative care and
appropriate pain management to alleviate suffering without actively causing
The legal status of passive euthanasia varies across different jurisdictions. In
some countries, laws and court rulings recognize the legality of withholding or
withdrawing life-sustaining treatment if it aligns with the patient's wishes or
best interests. Legal frameworks often require a careful evaluation of the
patient's condition, competent decision-making, and compliance with established
guidelines or protocols.
Unlike active euthanasia, discussions about passive euthanasia also involve
careful consideration of the patient's autonomy, the availability and adequacy
of palliative care, and the involvement of healthcare professionals in
decision-making processes. Each case requires an individualized approach, with
the focus on respecting the patient's values, wishes, and overall well-being
while ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place to protect vulnerable
Procedure Of Euthanasia
The procedure of euthanasia, where it is legally permitted, typically involves
several steps and strict guidelines to ensure that it is carried out in a
responsible and ethical manner. Eligibility assessment: The first step is to
determine whether a person meets the eligibility criteria for euthanasia. This
usually involves a thorough assessment by medical professionals to ascertain the
patient's medical condition, prognosis, and level of suffering. Legal
requirements may vary, but common criteria include having a terminal illness or
experiencing unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement.
Request and consent: The patient must express a clear, voluntary, and
well-informed request for euthanasia. This request should be made in writing,
and it may require multiple requests over a specified period of time to ensure
consistency and deliberation. The patient's decision-making capacity and
competence to make such a request are also evaluated.
Evaluation by medical professionals: The request is reviewed by a panel of
medical professionals, which may include physicians, psychologists, and
ethicists. Their role is to verify the patient's medical condition, assess the
patient's mental capacity, and ensure that all legal requirements are met. They
provide an independent evaluation of the patient's situation and determine
whether euthanasia is appropriate.
Second opinion: In many jurisdictions, a second independent medical opinion is
required to confirm the patient's eligibility for euthanasia. This is to ensure
an additional layer of scrutiny and prevent any potential biases or errors in
the evaluation process.
Safeguards and waiting period: To prevent impulsive decisions or changes of
mind, there is often a mandatory waiting period between the request for
euthanasia and the actual procedure. This waiting period allows time for
reflection and consultation with family members, healthcare professionals, and
other relevant individuals.
Administration of euthanasia: If all the legal requirements are met, and the
patient's request for euthanasia is approved, the procedure is carried out by
medical professionals. The specific method may vary, but it typically involves
the administration of a lethal substance, such as medication, with the intention
of ending the patient's life peacefully and painlessly.
It is important to be understood that the procedures and guidelines for
euthanasia can differ significantly among countries and jurisdictions. The
details outlined here are a general overview and should not be considered as
comprehensive or applicable in all cases.
There have been several notable case laws around the world that have shaped the
legal landscape and influenced the discussion on euthanasia. The Case of Karen
Ann Quinlan , a young woman in a persistent vegetative state, became the
subject of a legal battle. Her parents sought the right to remove her from life
support, while the hospital opposed the decision. The New Jersey Supreme Court
ruled in Favor of Quinlan's parents, recognizing the right of a patient to
refuse life-sustaining treatment.
The Case of Diane Pretty
, who suffered from motor neuron disease, sought the
right for her husband to help her end her life without facing prosecution. The
European Court of Human Rights ruled against her, stating that the UK's ban on
assisted suicide did not violate her human rights. The Case of Terri Schiavo,
He was in a persistent vegetative state, and her husband sought to remove her
feeding tube, claiming it was her wish. Schiavo's parents contested the
decision, leading to a protracted legal battle. The courts ultimately upheld the
removal of the feeding tube, resulting in her death.
The Case of Carter v. Canada
 Gloria Taylor, who suffered from a terminal
illness, challenged Canada's laws prohibiting assisted suicide. The Supreme
Court of Canada ruled in Favor of allowing physician-assisted dying for
competent adults with a grievous and irremediable medical condition. In the Case
of Alfie Evans (United Kingdom, 2018) Alfie Evans, an infant with a severe
neurological condition, became the subject of a legal battle when his parents
disagreed with the hospital's decision to withdraw life-sustaining treatment.
The courts ruled in Favor of the hospital, and Evans was eventually taken off
life support. These cases represent a range of legal decisions and reflect the
complexities and diverse approaches to euthanasia and end-of-life issues in
different jurisdictions. It's important to note that laws and court rulings can
vary significantly between countries and can continue to evolve over time.
An Indian case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India
, there was a
nurse who remained in a vegetative state for 42 years after being sexually
assaulted and strangled. In 2011, the Supreme Court of India addressed the issue
of passive euthanasia in the context of Shanbaug's case. The court allowed the
withdrawal of life support (such as the feeding tube), but it laid down
guidelines for such decisions to ensure proper safeguards.
In another landmark
case of Common Cause (A Regd. Society) v. Union of India, the Supreme Court
of India delivered a judgment on the constitutional validity of passive
euthanasia and the right to die with dignity. The court recognized the concept
of "living wills" or "advance directives" that allow individuals to state their
wish to refuse medical treatment if they become terminally ill or enter a
persistent vegetative state. The court ruled that the withdrawal of life support
can be permitted with proper safeguards and the approval of a medical board.
It's important to note that these cases dealt with specific aspects of
end-of-life decisions rather than legalizing euthanasia as a whole.
Different Religions Over Euthanasia
Religious views on euthanasia vary among different faith traditions, and
individual interpretations may also differ within each religion.
Christian views on euthanasia differ among denominations. Many
Christian groups emphasize the sanctity of life and believe that intentionally
causing the death of another person is morally wrong. They advocate for
providing palliative care and support to alleviate suffering without directly
ending a person's life. However, some Christian denominations, such as the
United Church of Christ, hold more liberal views and support the right to choose
euthanasia in certain circumstances.
Islamic teachings generally oppose euthanasia, considering it to be
against the will of Allah. Life is seen as a sacred gift from God, and Muslims
are encouraged to preserve and protect it. Islamic ethics emphasize the
importance of providing comfort and pain relief to the terminally ill through
palliative care, while actively causing death is generally considered forbidden.
Jewish views on euthanasia vary, but many Jewish teachings lean toward
preserving life and prohibiting active euthanasia. However, there are diverse
opinions within Judaism, and some interpretations may allow for limited forms of
passive euthanasia in specific cases where death is imminent and suffering is
Hinduism encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices, and views
on euthanasia may vary among individuals and communities. The concept of ahimsa
(non-violence) is highly regarded, and intentionally causing harm or death may
be considered contrary to this principle. However, some Hindus may accept the
idea of passive euthanasia in situations of extreme suffering and incurable
Buddhist teachings emphasize compassion and relieving suffering. While
the tradition generally opposes intentionally causing death, there is no unified
stance on euthanasia. Some Buddhists may support the idea of alleviating
unbearable suffering through compassionate means, including palliative care,
while others may advocate for accepting the natural process of death without
It is understood that these summaries provide a general understanding, and
individual believers within each religious tradition may have their own nuanced
perspectives on euthanasia. Religious views often intersect with cultural,
ethical, and legal considerations, and ongoing debates within religious
communities continue to shape the discussions surrounding euthanasia.
Constitutional View On Euthanasia
The constitutions of different countries may address the issue of euthanasia in
varying ways. Since constitutional provisions differ across jurisdictions. Some
constitutions provide protection for the right to life, which may have
implications for euthanasia. For example, the right to life is enshrined in
Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and in various national
constitutions, including those of several countries.
In some cases,
constitutional provisions are interpreted to include the right to die with
dignity or to refuse medical treatment. However, the extent to which these
provisions encompass euthanasia or assisted suicide varies. Constitutions may
also establish principles of personal autonomy, human dignity, and privacy,
which are often invoked in discussions surrounding end-of-life decisions and
euthanasia. It is worth noting that in some countries, constitutional provisions
are not explicitly mentioned or interpreted to address euthanasia, leaving the
regulation of euthanasia to be determined by legislation or court decisions.
Ultimately, the constitutional provisions relating to euthanasia can vary
significantly between countries, and the interpretation and application of these
provisions may be subject to legal and judicial developments. It is essential to
refer to the specific constitution and relevant legal frameworks of the country
in question for a more precise understanding of its stance on euthanasia. The
Indian Constitution does not explicitly address the issue of euthanasia.
However, certain constitutional provisions and fundamental rights have been
interpreted by the courts in cases related to end-of-life decisions.
The right to life and personal liberty, guaranteed under Article 21 of the
Indian Constitution, has been interpreted expansively by the Supreme Court of
India to include the right to live with dignity. In 2018, the Supreme Court, in
the case of Common Cause (A Regd. Society) v. Union of India, recognized the
right to die with dignity as a fundamental right within the ambit of Article
21. This judgment allowed for the formulation of "living wills" or "advance
directives" that permit individuals to express their wish to refuse medical
treatment in case they become terminally ill or enter a persistent vegetative
Arguments Over Euthanasia All Around The World
The argument over euthanasia is a complex and highly debated topic, with
varying viewpoints and considerations.
Arguments in Favor of euthanasia:
Arguments against euthanasia:
- Autonomy and individual choice:
Proponents argue that individuals have the right to make decisions about their own lives, including the choice to end their suffering if they are facing unbearable pain or a terminal illness. Respecting autonomy is seen as a fundamental principle of ethics and personal freedom.
- Alleviating suffering:
Euthanasia is viewed as a means to alleviate the physical and emotional suffering of individuals who are terminally ill or experiencing severe pain. It is seen as a compassionate option to end prolonged suffering when there is no hope for recovery or improvement.
- Dignity in death:
Advocates argue that allowing euthanasia provides a way for individuals to die with dignity, preserving their sense of control and avoiding a prolonged and undignified end.
- Sanctity of life:
Opponents argue that intentionally causing the death of another person goes against the sanctity of life, a value deeply rooted in religious, ethical, and philosophical traditions. They believe that human life should be protected and that intentionally ending it is morally wrong.
- Slippery slope and potential for abuse:
Concerns are raised about the potential for a slippery slope, where the acceptance of euthanasia could lead to the abuse of the practice. Critics worry that vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, disabled, or mentally ill, may be at risk if euthanasia becomes more widely accepted.
- Palliative care alternatives:
Critics argue that instead of legalizing euthanasia, efforts should focus on improving access to high-quality palliative care. Adequate pain management and emotional support can provide viable alternatives to euthanasia, ensuring that patients receive appropriate care while respecting the value of life.
- Role of healthcare professionals:
Some opponents believe that euthanasia contradicts the professional responsibilities and ethical obligations of healthcare professionals, who are traditionally committed to preserving life and providing care and support to patients.
These arguments highlight the complexity of the euthanasia debate, which
encompasses ethical, moral, legal, cultural, and religious considerations.
Engaging in informed and empathetic discussions that weigh the different
perspectives is crucial when addressing this sensitive topic.
Legality Of Euthanasia
The legality of euthanasia varies across countries and jurisdictions, with
different legal frameworks and regulations in place.
- Legalized euthanasia or physician-assisted dying, several countries have
laws that permit euthanasia or physician-assisted dying under specific
conditions. Which includes:
- The Netherlands:
The Netherlands legalized euthanasia and physician-assisted dying in 2002.
It allows for voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide for patients who are
suffering unbearably with no prospect of improvement. Strict criteria and
procedural safeguards must be met for the practice to be legal.
Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002, allowing it for patients facing
unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement. It has similar legal
criteria and safeguards as the Netherlands.
Luxembourg legalized euthanasia in 2009, following criteria similar to the
Netherlands and Belgium.
In 2015, Colombia's Constitutional Court decriminalized euthanasia under
specific conditions, ensuring that individuals who are suffering unbearably
with no chance of improvement can access euthanasia legally.
In 2016, Canada passed legislation that allows for MAID for eligible
patients who are experiencing intolerable suffering with no prospect of
- Decriminalized or limited forms of euthanasia:
Switzerland allows assisted suicide under certain circumstances. Assisted
suicide organizations exist in the country, and as long as specific
guidelines are followed, it is not prosecuted.
In Germany, assisted suicide is generally legal, but the involvement of
medical professionals can lead to legal and professional consequences.
- Some U.S. states:
As of 2021, euthanasia or physician-assisted dying is legal in several U.S.
states, including Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine,
New Jersey, Vermont, and Montana (through a court ruling).
- Restrictive or illegal:
- Many countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Australia,
and most U.S. states, consider euthanasia illegal. However, some
jurisdictions may have provisions for the withholding or withdrawing of
life-sustaining treatment or the practice of palliative care.
- Other countries, such as India, South Africa, and some U.S. states,
have ongoing legal debates and discussions regarding the status of
It is important to note that the legal landscape can change, as laws and
regulations evolve based on societal and ethical considerations. The specific
conditions, safeguards, and legal requirements for euthanasia or
physician-assisted dying differ among jurisdictions that have legalized or
decriminalized the practice.
As India had no law about euthanasia, the Supreme Court's guidelines are law
until and unless Parliament passes legislation. India's Minister of Law and
Justice, Veerappa Moily, called for serious political debate over the issue. In
India, passive euthanasia is legal. The Supreme Court of India legalised passive
euthanasia by withdrawing life support from people in a permanent vegetative
condition. Active euthanasia, such as the delivery of fatal chemicals, is
In conclusion, euthanasia remains a highly controversial and sensitive topic. It
requires thorough examination of the ethical, legal, and moral implications, as
well as a consideration of the practical safeguards necessary to protect
individuals' autonomy and prevent abuse. Public debate and a well-informed
discussion are necessary to navigate the complexities surrounding euthanasia and
reach a consensus that respects the values and beliefs of society while
prioritizing the well-being and dignity of individuals facing end-of-life
Advocates for euthanasia argue that it can help ensure a better quality of life
by ending the suffering of those who are enduring severe pain or living with
debilitating conditions. In some cases, medical interventions may only prolong
the suffering without offering a reasonable chance of improvement.
If euthanasia were to be legalized or decriminalized, it would require strict
safeguards and regulations to protect against potential abuses. These safeguards
might include ensuring that the decision is voluntary, well-informed, and made
by a competent individual, as well as involving medical professionals and
multiple assessments to ensure the absence of alternative treatments or
remedies. Euthanasia raises significant ethical and moral questions related to
the sanctity of life, the role of healthcare professionals, and the potential
for a slippery slope where vulnerable populations might be at risk. It is
essential to approach these considerations with careful thought, empathy, and
consideration for different cultural, religious, and philosophical perspectives.
Improving access to high-quality palliative care is crucial in the context of
discussions on euthanasia. Ensuring that patients have access to effective pain
management and emotional support can reduce the demand for euthanasia by
providing viable alternatives for those facing end-of-life challenges.
- Constitution Of India
- Supreme Court | Passive Euthanasia: Landmark ruling - Supreme Court says passive euthanasia is permissible (indiatimes.com)
- Said by Friedrich Nietzsche
- What is a living will, and the new Supreme Court order for simplifying passive euthanasia procedure? | Explained News, The Indian Express
- United States, 1976
- United Kingdom, 2002
- United states, 2005
- 2015 SCC 5
- (2018) EWHC 953 (Fam)
- (2011) 4 SCC 454
- (2017) 10 SCC 1
- (2017) 10 SCC 1
- Right to Life (Indian Constitution)
- Gian Kaur v. the State of Punjab
- Euthanasia: Why the right to die remains a debate across the world | Research News, The Indian Express
- medical assistance in dying
- Supreme Court | Passive Euthanasia: Landmark ruling - Supreme Court says passive euthanasia is permissible (indiatimes.com)
- Common Cause v. Union of India (2018)