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Legality Of Right To Die In India

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.'[1] 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 euthanasia.

There are 5 types of euthanasia which are as follows:

  1. Active,
  2. passive,
  3. voluntary,
  4. involuntary and
  5. 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[2] 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 Court.

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 to live.

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:

  1. 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.
     
  2. 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.[3] 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 death.

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 Bhatia on 29 March, 1985[4] 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[5] and Chenna Jagadeeswar and Anr. vs State Of Andhra Pradesh on 16 April, 1987[6] 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[7], 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[8] 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. 

End-Notes:
  1. Slideshare, available at: https://www.slideshare.net/amitamit21/euthanasia-ppa-53178167, accessed 3 September 2020.
  2. Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, (2011) 4 SCC 454
  3. 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.
  4. State v. Sanjay Kumar Bhatia, (1986) 10 DRJ 31
  5. Maruti Shripati Dubal vs. State of Maharashtra, (1986) SCC Online Bom 278
  6. Chenna Jagadeeswar and another Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1988) Cri.L.J.549
  7. P. Rathinam vs. Union of India, (1994) 8 SCC 394
  8. Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab, (1996) 2 SCC 648


    Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Saptarshi Roy
    Awarded certificate of Excellence
    Authentication No: MA106218079751-3-2021

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