Right to die is a concept where a person's life can be ended in order to be
free from suffering. Euthanasia is also known as 'dayamaran.' This process
can be seen in Australia, Belgium, Canada, India, Colombia, Netherlands and many
other countries. Since 1997, the right to die has been made legal in Colombia.
In 2002, the right to die was legalized by the Belgian parliament. In 2002,
Netherland also legalized the right to die.
In 2016, the right to die was made
legalized in Canada. In 2018, the Supreme Court gave a historic judgment in a
case involving Aruna Shanbaug which permitted the right to die. In February
2020, the right to die got legalized in Victoria which is in Australia. Before
we get into the legality of euthanasia, we have to understand different types of
There are 5 types of euthanasia which are as follows:
- involuntary and
- non voluntary.
Active euthanasia means actively killing a patient, such as injecting
a patient with a lethal dose of the drug.
Passive euthanasia means withdrawal of treatment or withdrawal of food which
helps the patient to live. Voluntary euthanasia means the person gives his
consent for himself. Involuntary euthanasia means euthanasia against the will of
the person, without consent. Voluntary euthanasia means when the relatives would
give the consent for the person if that person cannot give the consent.
There was landmark verdict which was given by the Supreme Court in Aruna
Shanbaug case in which passive euthanasia was recognized. The case was about Aruna
Shanbaug who worked at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai as a nurse. On 27
November, 1973 she was choked with a chain and sodomized by a sweeper whose name
was Sohanlal Walmiki.
Since she was choked, she couldn't breathe properly and since then she was left
in a vegetative state, which meant that she was awake but did not show any signs
of awareness. Since the incident, she was treated at King Edward Memorial
Hospital and was kept alive by Gastrostomy. Pinki Virani who was a friend of
Aruna Shanbaug and also a social activist, filed a petition in the Supreme
Her argument was that euthanasia must be performed on Aruna Shanbaug since she
was in a vegetative state and her current state violated the right to live in
dignity. The Supreme Court issued guidelines which legalized passive euthanasia
in India on 7th March, 2001. According to the guidelines, passive euthanasia
included withdrawal of treatment or withdrawal of food which helped the patient
The court rejected the plea to discontinue Aruna's life since the decision was
based on the hospital staff that took care of her. The hospital staff did not
support the practice of euthanasia on Aruna Shanbaug. She was in coma for 42
years and died on 18th May, 2015 from pneumonia. Since there were no rules or
regulations regarding euthanasia, India's Minister of Law and Justice, Veerappa
Moily held a debate on euthanasia.
Hence, these guidelines were laid down which are as follow:
- Parents or spouses or close relatives or any other relative may decide
to stop supporting life, or in the absence of any of them, such a decision
may also be made by a person or anyone who is acting as a next friend or by
the doctor who is taking care of the patient. However, the decision must be
accepted in the best interest of the patient.
- Even if it is decided to take away the life support by close relatives
or doctors or the next friend, such a decision requires the presence of two
witnesses and countersigned by a first-class judicial magistrate, and
approved by a medical board.
The High Court rejected the active euthanasia by a deadly injection. Since there
is no law regulating euthanasia in India, the court declared that its decision
becomes a land law until the Indian Parliament imposes some appropriate laws. In
2018, the Supreme Court of India, through a five-judge Constitution bench
declared that if strict guidelines were followed, the government would respect
the living will
on the condition if the patient suffered from a terminal
illness or if the patient is in a vegetative state.
Now there was a big debate on whether Article 21 (right to life) included the
right to die. Article 21 states about protection of life and personal
liberty. So this right to life includes right to live with dignity, right to
shelter, right to food, right to sleep, right to water, right to nutrients and
other rights which are necessary for the right to life. So the question is
whether the right to life also includes the right to die. For an ordinary man,
when life becomes painful like death, it is quite natural for him to long for
This voluntary embrace of death is termed as euthanasia or mercy killing. There
were many arguments which were in favor as well as arguments which were against
legalizing euthanasia. The arguments which stated in favor for legalizing
euthanasia were that it was a way to end to a painful life. The family members
of the dead patient will be relieved from emotional and economical stress on
them. Euthanasia will support in helping other poor and needy people.
Now there were some arguments which were against legalizing euthanasia. They
were such as, Indian culture will not accept the practice of euthanasia since
Indian culture believes in ritual, customs so it won't be possible. There may be
such cases where we could see all poor people would take on the practice of
euthanasia to escape from financial stress. There can be commercialization of
euthanasia which may take place for financial gain. Some think that if
euthanasia gets legalized, it will bring down the dignity of life and the life
won't be sacred anymore and there will be absence of purity in our lives.
The first case which said about the right to die was State vs Sanjay Kumar
on 29 March, 1985 where the section 309 was criticized by the
Delhi High Court. This decision was followed by two other decisions in the cases
of Maruti Shripati Dubal vs State Of Maharashtra
on 25 September,
1986 and Chenna Jagadeeswar and Anr. vs State Of Andhra Pradesh
April, 1987 respectively. In the first case, it was considered that section
309 violated Article 21 and in the second case, it was held that section 309 was
valid. In P.Rathinam vs Union of India
on 26 April 1994, it was again
decided that section 309 was invalid.
But the decision was overruled in Smt. Gian Kaur vs The State of Punjab on 21
March, 1996 and it was held that the right to die was not included in Article
21. So in the end, it was found that the right to die should be used as an
exception in some rare cases and should not be used frequently in every case.
Many religions have their different opinions on euthanasia.
Hinduism encourages the right to die by non- violent means like, fasting to the
point of starvation if the desire to live or wish to live or need to live is
absent. Jainism also encourages the right to die by non- violent means like
fasting to the point of starvation to achieve Moksha
. Muslim, Christians
and Jewish are all against suicide as well as euthanasia. According to them, all
lives are pure, sacred and holy as God has created everything.
So according to judgment given by Supreme Court in March 2018, active euthanasia
is illegal. Only passive euthanasia is permitted, but it should be done under
the supervision of the High Court. The conditions for conducting euthanasia in
India are that the patients must give their consent through any living will for
conducting euthanasia and the patients must be in a vegetative state.
- Slideshare, available at: https://www.slideshare.net/amitamit21/euthanasia-ppa-53178167,
accessed 3 September 2020.
- Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, (2011) 4 SCC 454
- Lawctopus, available at: https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/article-21-of-the-constitution-of-india-right-to-life-and-personal-liberty/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20right%20to%20live%20includes,and%20mixing%20and%20mingling%20with,
accessed 12 September 2020.
- State v. Sanjay Kumar Bhatia, (1986) 10 DRJ 31
- Maruti Shripati Dubal vs. State of Maharashtra, (1986) SCC Online Bom
- Chenna Jagadeeswar and another Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1988)
- P. Rathinam vs. Union of India, (1994) 8 SCC 394
- Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab, (1996) 2 SCC 648
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Saptarshi Roy
Authentication No: MA106218079751-3-2021