File Copyright Online - File mutual Divorce in Delhi - Online Legal Advice - Lawyers in India

Euthanasia: Ethical Considerations and Legal Perspectives

"One should die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly"[1]

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 matter.

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.

The 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 conditions.

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 dignity.

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

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 populations.

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

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.

One of 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 treatments.

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 death.

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 individuals.

Procedure Of Euthanasia

The procedure of euthanasia, where it is legally permitted, typically involves several steps [2]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.

Case Laws:
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 [3], 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[4], 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[5], 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[6] 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)[7] 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[8], 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[9], 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 severe.

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 illnesses.

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 intervention.

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,[10] recognized the right to die with dignity as a fundamental right within the ambit of Article 21[11]. 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 state[12].

Arguments Over Euthanasia All Around The World

The argument over euthanasia is a complex and highly debated topic[13], with varying viewpoints and considerations.

Arguments in Favor of 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.

Arguments against euthanasia:
  • 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.
  1. 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:
      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:
      Luxembourg legalized euthanasia in 2009, following criteria similar to the Netherlands and Belgium.
    • Colombia:
      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.
    • Canada:
      In 2016, Canada passed legislation that allows for MAID[14] for eligible patients who are experiencing intolerable suffering with no prospect of improvement.
  2. Decriminalized or limited forms of euthanasia:
    • Switzerland:
      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.
    • Germany:
      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).
  3. 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[15], South Africa, and some U.S. states, have ongoing legal debates and discussions regarding the status of euthanasia.
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[16]. 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[17]. Active euthanasia, such as the delivery of fatal chemicals, is prohibited.[18]

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 choices.

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 (
  1. Said by Friedrich Nietzsche
  2. What is a living will, and the new Supreme Court order for simplifying passive euthanasia procedure? | Explained News, The Indian Express
  3. United States, 1976
  4. United Kingdom, 2002
  5. United states, 2005
  6. 2015 SCC 5
  7. (2018) EWHC 953 (Fam)
  8. (2011) 4 SCC 454
  9. (2017) 10 SCC 1
  10. (2017) 10 SCC 1
  11. Right to Life (Indian Constitution)
  12. Gian Kaur v. the State of Punjab
  13. Euthanasia: Why the right to die remains a debate across the world | Research News, The Indian Express
  14. medical assistance in dying
  15. Supreme Court | Passive Euthanasia: Landmark ruling - Supreme Court says passive euthanasia is permissible (
  17. Common Cause v. Union of India (2018)

Law Article in India

Ask A Lawyers

You May Like

Legal Question & Answers

Lawyers in India - Search By City

Copyright Filing
Online Copyright Registration


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi Mutual Consent Divorce is the Simplest Way to Obtain a D...

Increased Age For Girls Marriage


It is hoped that the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which intends to inc...

Facade of Social Media


One may very easily get absorbed in the lives of others as one scrolls through a Facebook news ...

Section 482 CrPc - Quashing Of FIR: Guid...


The Inherent power under Section 482 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (37th Chapter of t...

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India: A...


The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a concept that proposes the unification of personal laws across...

Role Of Artificial Intelligence In Legal...


Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing various sectors of the economy, and the legal i...

Lawyers Registration
Lawyers Membership - Get Clients Online

File caveat In Supreme Court Instantly