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Right To Death

Article 21 of the Indian constitution is one of the most important Articles in the Indian constitution, which accords sanctity to the human life. Article 21 casts an onerous duty on the state to preserve the life of each person within its realm. It at the same time grants the state the power to deprive a person of his life and liberty in accordance with the procedure established by law. Article 21 has been used by the judiciary umpteen times to broaden the very concept of the term life so as to cover everything which goes to constitute the life of a person. Lately a debate has been raked up in the socio-legal circles regarding the concept of euthanasia and its validity in the Indian constitutional scheme. This paper is an attempt to trace the evolution of the concept of euthanasia and its legality in light of the mandate of Article 21of the Indian constitution.

Death is never the first choice, and people opt for this path only because there is none other left to take.


Euthanasia is not something new or unknown to mankind. In ancient Greece and Rome, helping others to put an end to their lives was permitted in certain situations. The term euthanasia is derived from the Greek words “eu” and “thanatos” which means “good death” or “easy death”. It is also known as Mercy Killing. Euthanasia literally means putting a person to painless death especially in case of incurable suffering or when life becomes purposeless as a result of mental or physical handicap. The Law commission defined “Euthanasia’ as the act of killing someone painlessly, especially, for relieving suffering of a person from incurable illness.

In the popular mind, "euthanasia" conjures the image of an elderly, terminally ill, lucid patient requesting the assistance of health carers to die now pain free rather than to die later after profound suffering . Over the years, it has turned out to be one of the most controversial issues in law, medicine, ethics, religion and politics. The law commission in its report on “Medical Treatment to Terminally Ill Patients “tried to give an account of the present day scenario with respect to the terminally ill patients in light of the recent medical advances.

It observed that:
“A hundred years ago, when medicine and medical technology had not invented the artificial methods of keeping a terminally ill patient alive by medical treatment, including by means of ventilators and artificial feeding, such patients were meeting their death on account of natural causes. Today, it is accepted, a terminally ill person has a common law right to refuse modern medical procedures and allow nature to take its own course, as was done in good old times. It is well-settled law in all countries that a terminally ill patient who is conscious and is competent, can take an ‘informed decision’ to die a natural death and direct that he or she be not given medical treatment which may merely prolong life. There are currently a large number of such patients who have reached a stage in their illness when according to well-informed body of medical opinion; there are no chances of recovery. But modern medicine and technology may yet enable such patients to prolong life to no purpose and during such prolongation, patients could go through extreme pain and suffering. Several such patients prefer palliative care for reducing pain and suffering and do not want medical treatment, which will merely prolong life or postpone death.

The above account presents a grim picture of the terminally ill people who are living under unbearable pain with no chance of regaining back the quality of life that they used to enjoy in the past. Such patients are in a pitiable condition because they have lost their basic cognitive faculties, which are vital to live a meaningful life. Many people are of the opinion that patients who are terminally ill, and who are having no chance of recovery should be allowed the right to die as prolonging their lives merely adds to their pain and suffering. There are some who believe that individuals should have an unqualified right to die, while there are others who consider all forms of euthanasia to be murder or suicide and, thus, immoral.

Classification of Euthanasia

Euthanasia can be broadly be classified into two categories
(a) Active euthanasia and (b) Passive Euthanasia.
Active euthanasia means a positive merciful act to end useless sufferings and a meaningless existence. It is an act of COMMISSION for example by giving large doses of a drug to hasten death.Passive Euthanasia or negative euthanasiaimplies not using or discontinuing the use of extraordinary life-sustaining measures to prolong life. This includes an act of omission, such as failure to resuscitate a terminally ill or hopelessly incapacitated patient or severely defectively newborn infant. It involves non-use of the measures that would probably delay death and permit natural death to occur. Similarly, euthanasia may be categorized into Voluntary and Involuntary Euthanasia. Voluntary Euthanasia is where the consent is taken from the patient, whereas non-voluntary euthanasia is where the consent is unavailable. Here the individual is unable to ask for euthanasia and another person makes the decision on his/her behalf, usually based on previously expressed wishes.

Many arguments have been advanced by scholars, human rights philosophers and law thinkers advocating legalization of euthanasia all over the world. These are made on the basis of moral, human rights, and utilitarian grounds. The moral ground is that it is against morality to leave someone in severe pain and do nothing for his/her relief. The human rights angle is that leaving a patient in severe pain would amount to directly challenging the fundamental right of the individual i.e., the right to a dignified life. The utilitarian principle believes in the greatest degree of happiness to the maximum number of people. According to this, if anyone is terminally ill, lying in hospital and is in severe pain, then it would not bring his/her family happiness and it will suffer because of his/her pain. Therefore, utilitarian thinkers argue that an act or abstaining from an act which does not give happiness to anyone is wrong. These views have been gaining support in the social circles triggering a debate on the question whether right to life includes within it the right to die especially in the context of Euthanasia or Mercy Killing.

Euthanasia- Trends In Different Countries

The laws with reference to the permissibility of euthanasia vary from country to country. Most countries have been reluctant to accommodate active euthanasia within their legal system whereas some of the countries have taken a lead in legalizing it. The reluctance to accord legal sanctity to euthanasia stems from the fact that many countries consider the practice of euthanasia as morally and ethically abhorrent. The ethical considerations surrounding euthanasia in different states have influenced tremendously in taking a legal position on the subject in the states.

However, countries like Netherland took a radical step in the year 2000 when it legalized euthanasia. The law which was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Dutch lawmakers provides for the addition of a special “criminal liability exclusion” clause to Article 293 and 294 of the Dutch Penal Code that deals with the offence of homicide. By virtue of the exception, doctors are exonerated from the commission of offences under the said Articles if they comply with the due care criteria set out in Article 2 of the Act (Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act 2001).

Under the Dutch law, it is now legal for a doctor to help a patient who seeks his assistance to end his life. Similarly, Belgium became the second country to legalize active euthanasia The Belgian law sets out conditions under which suicide can be practiced without giving doctors a license to kill. According to the Belgian law, patients wishing to end their own lives must be conscious when the demand is made and repeat their request for euthanasia. They have to be under "constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain" resulting from an accident or incurable illness. The law gives patients the right to receive ongoing treatment with painkillers -- the authorities have to pay to ensure that poor or isolated patients do not ask to die because they do not have money for such treatment.

One of the important safeguards provided by the Law is that every mercy killing case will have to be filed at a special commission to decide if the doctors in charge are following the regulations. The Belgian Law makes departure from the Dutch law when it comes to the issues of a minor patient.

Unlike the Dutch Law, the Belgian law does not permit the minor to seek assistance to die. The Canadian law allows a person to refuse medical treatment and the medical profession accepts the ‘living will’, but the law does not allow the doctor to actively help someone to kill himself. Australia also has a voluntary euthanasia law, which is stately working well. In Australia, a computerized injection system is in use to accomplish euthanasia. In US, active euthanasia is illegal barring certain States where it is permitted. In U.K, active euthanasia is also prohibited by law.

However, with respect to passive euthanasia, the general legal position all over the world seems to be that while active euthanasia is illegal unless there is legislation permitting it, passive euthanasia is legal even without legislation provided certain conditions and safeguards are maintained.

Indian Perspective
In Indian Constitution Article 21 is the repository of the Right to Life. It lays down that “no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except by procedure established by law”. However, the true import of this constitutional provision goes beyond these words. Article 21 has received a generous treatment at the hands of the Indian judiciary.

The Indian judiciary woke up to the all-encompassing import of right to life quite late. The change in judicial attitude was perhaps motivated by the salutary principle that a constitutional provision must be construed, not in a narrow and constricted sense, but in a wide and liberal manner. The courts have repeatedly held that while arriving at the proper meaning and content of the right to life, the attempt of the court should always be to expand the reach and ambit of the fundamental right rather than to attenuate its meaning and content. It is a result of this judicial approach that bundles of rights have been carved out of Article 21 of the constitution. A grand step was taken by the court in expanding the scope of Article 21 when it argued that life in Article 21 does not mean merely animal existence but living with human dignity. This judicial attitude has mainly been influenced by the oft-quoted observation of the U.S Supreme Court inMunn v Illinoisin which it was observed that

“By the term life as here used something more is meant than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body by amputation of an arm or leg…”

The Indian Supreme court has thus given very extensive parameters to Article 21 . It has become a source of many substantive rights and procedural safeguards to the people.
This judicial approach is epitomized by the observation of Bhagwati.J in Francis Coralie’s case wherein, it was observed by the learned judge, that
“We think that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that does with it, namely the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and comingling with fellow human beings”.

Article 21 now includes within its ambit the right to travel abroad, right to clean environment, right to livelihood, right to speedy trial, right to health, etc. Now that it is well established that right to life does not mean mere animal existence, but it includes a dignified or qualitative life. Therefore, it is argued that every person has a life to live with at least a minimum dignity and when the state of existence falls below even that minimum level, the person must be allowed to end such torturous existence. The question whether the Right to Die exists in the Indian Constitution has been a source of great legal debate. In India Article 21 of the Indian Constitution has been the central point of discussion in this debate over euthanasia. The moot question for consideration has been whether right to life under Article 21 also includes right to die? According to M.P.Jain, if Article 21 confers on a person the right to live a dignified life, does it also confer a right not to live if the person chooses to end his life? If so then what is the fate of the provisions in the penal code making attempt to commit suicide illegal.
This question has been posed before the Courts on several occasions during the past decade especially with reference to the constitutional validity of Section 309 that makes attempt to commit suicide punishable. One of the earlier instances of a court taking cognizance of such cases related to the judgment of the Delhi High Court inState v Sanjay Kumar Bhatial. This perhaps was one of the first instances where the courts in India made any reference to euthanasia.

The Division bench of the Delhi High Court while speaking through Sachar.J observed that:
"It is ironic that Section 309 IPC still continues to be on our Penal Code. ... Strange paradox that in the age of votaries of Euthanasia, suicide should be criminally punishable. Instead of the society hanging its head in shame that there should be such social strains that a young man (the hope of tomorrow) should be driven to suicide compounds its inadequacy by treating the boy as a criminal. Instead of sending the young boy to psychiatric clinic it gleefully sends him to mingle with criminals.... The continuance of Section 309 IPC is an anachronism unworthy of a human society like ours.

In many such cases, it was argued that right to life includes within it the right to die and therefore when a person attempts to commit suicide he is merely exercising his fundamental right to die. It was therefore contended that as Section 309 imposes fetters on this fundamental right it might be declared as unconstitutional. Another instance where such an argument was successfully put forward was theMaruti Dubal’s case. In this case, the Bombay High Court held that Section 309 is unconstitutional as it violates Article 21. It was held by the court that Article 21 includes within its ambit the right to die or to terminate one's own life. The Honorable Supreme Court approved this interpretation given to right to life in its decision inP.Rathinam’s case.

The judgment of the Supreme Court in Rathinam’s case came to be criticized by many as being a radical view on the right to life. The court ruling in Rathinam’s came to be reviewed by the full bench of the Honorable Supreme CourtinGian Kaur v State of Punjab. The main issue before the court was that if attempt to commit suicide is not regarded as penal then what happens to someone who abets suicide which is a punishable act under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. It was argued before the court that if the principal offence of attempting to commit suicide is void as being unconstitutional then how could its abetment be punishable. The court while overruling its judgment in Rathinam’s case held that the significant aspect of 'sanctity of life' is also not to be overlooked. Article 21 is a provision guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty and by no stretch of imagination can extinction of life' be read to be included in protection of life'. Whatever may be the philosophy of permitting a person to extinguish his life by committing suicide, we find it difficult to construe Article 21 to include within it the right to die' as a part of the fundamental right guaranteed therein. 'Right to life' is a natural right embodied in Article 21 but suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life and, therefore, incompatible and inconsistent with the concept of right to life' . However, the court in Gain Kaur distinguished between euthanasia and attempt to commit suicide. It was observed the honorable supreme court that

“Euthanasia is termination of life of a person who is terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state. In such a case death due to termination of a natural life is certain and imminent. The process of natural death has commenced; it is only reducing the period of suffering during the process of natural death. This not the case of extinguishing life but only of accelerating conclusion of the process of natural death which has already begun. This may fall within the concept of right to live with human dignity up to the end of natural life. This may include the right of a dying man to die with dignity when his life is ebbing out. But this cannot be equated with the right to die an unnatural death curtailing the natural span of life.

Even though the court in Gian Kaur’s case referred to euthanasia, it stayed clear of making any explicit pronouncement on its legality within the Indian Constitutional scheme. Recently the Supreme Court was called upon to adjudicate on the question with regard to the permissibility of euthanasia within the Indian constitutional scheme. The court had to decide whether the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 included within it the right to extinguish one’s life in case of terminally ill patients having no hope of any recovery. This issue came up before the Honorable Supreme Court in Aruna Ramachander Shanbaug v Union of India.

Aruna Shanbaug
On the night of 27 November 1973, Shanbaug was sexually assaulted by Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, a sweeper on contract at the King Edward Memorial Hospital. Sohanlal attacked her while she was changing clothes in the hospital basement. He choked her with a dog chain and sodomized her. The asphyxiation cut off oxygen to her brain, resulting in brain stem contusion injury, cervical cord injury, and cortical blindness. She was discovered with blood splattered around her at 7:45 am the next morning by a cleaner.

The police case was registered as a case of robbery and attempted murder because of the concealment of anal rape by the doctors under the instructions of the Dean of KEM, Dr. Deshpande.

A few days before her death, Shanbaug was diagnosed with pneumonia. She was moved to the medical intensive care unit (MICU) of the hospital and put on a ventilator. She died the morning of 18 May 2015.Her funeral was performed by the hospital nurses and other staff members.

Shanbaug remained in a vegetative state from 1973 until her death in 2015.

17 December 2010, the Supreme Court, while admitting the plea to end the life made by activist-journalist Pinki Virani, sought a report on Shanbaug's medical condition from the hospital in Mumbai and the government of Maharashtra.

On 24 January 2011, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for euthanasia filed by Aruna's friend, journalist Pinki Virani, by setting up a medical panel to examine her. A three-member medical panel was established under the Supreme Court's directive. After examining Shanbaug, the panel concluded that she met "most of the criteria of being in a permanent vegetative state".
On 7 March 2011, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment, issued a set of broad guidelines legalizing passive euthanasia in India. These guidelines for passive euthanasia— i.e. the decision to withdraw treatment, nutrition, or water—establish that the decision to discontinue life support must be taken by parents, spouse, or other close relatives, or in the absence of them, by a "next friend". This decision requires approval from the concerned High Court.

In its judgment, the court declined to recognize Virani as the "next friend" of Aruna Shanbaug, and instead treated the KEM hospital staff as the "next friend."
Since the KEM Hospital staff wished that Aruna Shanbaug be allowed to live, Virani's petition to withdraw life support was declined. However, the court further stipulated that the KEM hospital staff, with the approval of the Bombay High Court, had the option of withdrawing life support if they changed their mind:
On 25 February 2014, while hearing a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India said that the prior opinion in the Aruna Shanubaug case was based on a wrong interpretation of the Constitution Bench's opinion in

Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab.
The court also determined that the opinion was internally inconsistent because although it held that euthanasia can be allowed only by an act of the legislature, it then proceeded to judicially establish euthanasia guidelines. The court referred the issue to a larger Constitution Bench for resolution, writing:
Following the Supreme Court decision rejecting the plea, the nursing staff at the hospital—who had opposed the petition and had been looking after Shanbaug since she had lapsed into a vegetative state—distributed sweets and cut a cake to celebrate what they termed her "rebirth". A senior nurse at the hospital later said, "We have to tend to her just like a small child at home. She only keeps aging like any of us, does not create any problems for us.

We take turns looking after her and we love to care for her. How can anybody think of taking her life?"
Pinki Virani's lawyer, Shubhangi Tulli, decided not to file an appeal, saying "the two-judge ruling was final till the SC decided to constitute a larger bench to re-examine the issue." Pinki Virani said, "Because of this woman who has never received justice, no other person in a similar position will have to suffer for more than three and a half decades."

The case related to Aruna Shanbaug, a terminally ill patient who has been living in a persistent vegetative state for the past 37 years. The plea for euthanasia was filed on behalf of Aruna by one Pinky Virani who claimed to be her next friend. Her plea was opposed by the KEM hospital which has been taking care of her for the past 37 years. It was argued before the court that Aruna The Honorable Supreme Court in its judgment while permitting passive euthanasia unequivocally declared Active Euthanasia using lethal substances or forces to kill the terminally ill patient as illegal and a crime under Section 302, 304 of the Indian Penal Code. The bench in its judgment distinguished active and passive euthanasia from a purely legalistic point of view. The court observed that the difference between active and passive euthanasia is that in active euthanasia something is done to end the patient’s life while in passive euthanasia something is not done that would have preserved the patient’s life.

The court elaborated this proposition by observing that
“At the heart of this distinction lies a theoretical question. Why is it that the doctor who gives his patient a lethal injection, which kills him, commits an unlawful act and indeed is guilty of murder, whereas a doctor who, by discontinuing life support, allows his patient to die, may not act unlawfully - and will not do so, if he commits no breach of duty to his patient? Professor Glanville Williams has suggested (see his Textbook of Criminal Law, 2nd ed., p. 282) that the reason is that what the doctor does when he switches off a life support machine 'is in substance not an act but an omission to struggle, and that 'the omission is not a breach of duty by the doctor because he is not obliged to continue in a hopeless case’.

The court in its judgment dwelt in length on the ruling of the House of Lords in Airedale case. It substantially agreed with the view expressed by the learned judges in the Airedale ‘case with regard to the best interest doctrine. The court also tried to incorporate the safeguards given by the House Lords in case of passive euthanasia. The court following the Airedale’s case vested the High Courts in India with the power to take a final call on appeals for euthanasia made by the relatives or next friend of the ailing person.

On 7 March 2018, the Supreme Court of India legalized passive euthanasia by means of the withdrawal of life support to patients in a permanent vegetative state. The decision was made as part of the verdict in a case involving Aruna Shanbaug, who had been in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) until her death in 2015.

In March 2018, the Supreme Court of India passed a historic judgment-law permitting Passive Euthanasia in the country. This judgment was passed in wake of Pinki Virani’s plea to the highest court in December 2009 under the Constitutional provision of “Next Friend”. It’s a landmark law which places the power of choice in the hands of the individual, over government, medical or religious control which sees all suffering as “destiny”.

The Supreme Court specified two irreversible conditions to permit Passive Euthanasia Law in its 2011 Law: (I) The brain-dead for whom the ventilator can be switched off
(II) Those in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) for whom the feed can be tapered out and pain-managing palliatives be added, according to laid-down international specifications.

The same judgment-law also asked for the scrapping of 309, the code which penalizes those who survive suicide attempts. In December 2014, the government of India declared its intention to do so.

However, on 25 February 2014, a three-judge bench of Supreme Court of India had termed the judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case to be 'inconsistent in itself' and has referred the issue of euthanasia to its five-judge Constitution bench.

And on December 23, 2014, Government of India endorsed and re-validated the Passive Euthanasia judgement-law in a Press Release, after stating in the Rajya Sabha as follows: that The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in its judgment dated 7.3.2011 [WP (Criminal) No. 115 of 2009], while dismissing the plea for mercy killing in a particular case, laid down comprehensive guidelines to process cases relating to passive euthanasia.

Thereafter, the matter of mercy killing was examined in consultation with the Ministry of Law and Justice and it has been decided that since the Hon'ble Supreme Court has already laid down the guidelines, these should be followed and treated as law in such cases. At present, there is no proposal to enact legislation on this subject and the judgment of the Hon'ble Supreme Court is binding on all. The Health Minister, J P Nadda stated this in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha.

The high court rejected active euthanasia by means of lethal injection. In the absence of a law regulating euthanasia in India, the court stated that its decision becomes the law of the land until the Indian parliament enacts a suitable law. Active euthanasia, including the administration of lethal compounds for the purpose of ending life, is still illegal in India, and in most countries.

In 2018 the Supreme Court of India declared through a five-judge Constitution bench that, if strict guidelines are followed, the government would honor “living wills “allowing consenting patients to be passively euthanized if the patient suffers from a terminal illness or is in a vegetative state.

The following guidelines were issued by the Honorable Supreme Court
(1)When such an application is filed the Chief Justice of the High Court should forthwith constitute a Bench of at least two Judges who should decide to grant approval or not. Before doing so the Bench should seek the opinion of a committee of three reputed doctors to be nominated by the Bench after consulting such medical authorities/medical practitioners as it may deem fit. Preferably, one of the three doctors should be a neurologist; one should be a psychiatrist, and the third a physician. For this purpose, a panel of doctors in every city may be prepared by the High Court in consultation with the State Government/Union Territory and their fees for this purpose may be fixed.

(2) The committee of three doctors nominated by the Bench should carefully examine the patient and also consult the record of the patient, as well as taking the views of the hospital staff and submit its report to the High Court Bench.

(3) Simultaneously with appointing the committee of doctors, the High Court Bench shall also issue notice to the State and close relatives e.g. parents, spouse, brothers/sisters etc. of the patient, and in their absence his/her next friend, and supply a copy of the report of the doctor’s committee to them as soon as it is available. After hearing them, the High Court bench should give its verdict. The above procedure should be followed all over India until Parliament makes legislation on this subject.

(4) The High Court should give its decision speedily at the earliest, since delay in the matter may result in causing great mental agony to the relatives and persons close to the patient. The High Court should give its decision assigning specific reasons in accordance with the principle of ‘best interest of the patient’ laid down by the House of Lords in Airedale’s case (supra). The views of the near relatives and committee of doctors should be given due weight by the High Court before pronouncing a final verdict which shall not be summary in nature.

The judgment in Shanbaug’s case was met with a mixed response while on the one hand many welcomed it on the basic premise that there are limits to human suffering, especially when there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It is argued that a terminally ill patient cannot be kept on life support with the hope that, in the near future, there may be developments in medicine, which may save him or her. This approach is justified on the ground that quality of life is as important as life itself. However, on the other side of the aisle there are people who argue that if euthanasia is legalized, it could be misused. Nevertheless, many contests this contention. It is argued this fear of misuse holds true with reference to any other existing laws also, so why to single out this law only.

They thus suggest that stringent safeguards avoid any kind of misuse whereas others suggest that euthanasia should be allowed only when no amount of palliative care can help the patient recover. In spite of these convincing arguments, genuine concerns have been raised because of the growing evidence that access to healthcare is shrinking; a circumstance that will only mean a large number of those who ought to be in hospital under supervised care will be in homes with few resources for end-of-life care and, clearly, outside the reach of the medical system. These fears are not unfounded especially with reference to the Western countries where the cost of medical care is severely expensive. However, the Belgian law on Euthanasia incorporates a provision that makes it obligatory on the state to provide terminally ill patients with painkillers so that the patients do not end their lives because of financial constraints in procuring medicine. With reference to poor and developing countries, such fears cannot be allayed easily. In India it is it is argued that if denying end-of-life treatment and care were to be considered passive euthanasia, then as a country we have certainly been practicing it for long. It is a result of this state of affairs that people are prompted to remark that without expanding access to healthcare and providing end-of-life and palliative funded care, legislating to allow euthanasia is something of a mockery.

An apprehension has been raised that Passive euthanasia will cover infants and unborn babies by citing the example of the Netherlands, where all these acts were legalized. It is contended that because of legalization of Euthanasia, Netherlands has lost more than one-fourth of its population and it has badly affected unborn babies with a high fall in birthrate in that country. For some there is an important lesson to every country that is considering following this proponent country and legalizing euthanasia. They argue that Euthanasia is impracticable in India given its susceptibility, which makes it prone to misuse.

It is submitted that though the fears expressed with regard to the misuse of euthanasia are genuine such fears largely relate to active euthanasia. In India unlike Netherlands and Belgium, active euthanasia continues to be illegal and looking at the court pronouncements of the past decade it would remain to be so. Therefore the question of its misuse in India does not arise with respect to the fears about the misuse of passive euthanasia, such fears stand largely addressed following the directions issued by the Honorable Supreme Court in Shanbaug’s case. These directions are a sufficient safeguard to act as a check against any misuse. However, it would be prudent for the government of India to come up with a comprehensive legislation on permitting passive euthanasia.

It has been argued that permitting euthanasia could diminish respect for life. Concerns have been raised that allowing euthanasia for terminally ill individuals who request it, could result in a situation where all terminally ill individuals would feel pressurized into availing of euthanasia. There are fears that such individuals might begin to view themselves as a burden on their family, friends and society or as a strain on limited healthcare resources. Opponents of euthanasia also contend that permitting individuals to end their lives may lead to a situation where certain groups within society e.g. the terminally ill, severely disabled individuals or the elderly would be euthanized as a rule . However, proponents of euthanasia argue that legalizing the practice would not devalue life or result in pressure being put on individuals to end their lives but would allow those with no hope of recovery to die with dignity and without unnecessary suffering. They state that it would be imprudent not to implement legislation because this would drive euthanasia underground where it would be unregulated. They also raise concerns that the current legal vacuum has led to people travelling abroad (while they are still physically able to) to avail of euthanasia/assisted suicide before they feel they are ready to die.

Written by: Ishfaq Ahmad Shah, School of Law University of Kashmir
Email Id: [email protected]

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