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Euthanasia: Right To Die With Dignity In India

Life is a cycle and in order to continue the rotation death is preordained. We all know the fact that death is part and parcel of life as one who had took birth on the earth will die one day. This is the bitter truth. But, we humans, are in constant denial of this fundamental fact of life.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution as well as under Article 3 of International Convention Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 guarantees the right to life.

In this world every human being has the right to life and also to enjoy the sweet fruits and peaceful life till his death occurs. But sometimes human beings are fed up of their lives and wants to end his life by use of a natural means. To end one's life by unnatural means is a sign of abnormality and mental sickness or those who are in depression full stop when a person and his life by his act on its own we call it in common words as suicide but to end life of a critically ill person who wants to die peacefully without any pain or suffering is termed as mercy killing or euthanasia.

Euthanasia is mainly associated with people for critically ill patients or who have become incapacitated and don't want a peace painful death after a life suffering. A severely handicapped or terminally ill person or the ones who has no one to take care of should have the right to choose to live or die. The right to choose to live or die should not be a right allocated for bodied individuals of sound mind but to all human beings who are in painful condition.

Euthanasia is a controversial issue which encompasses the morals values and beliefs of a society. Euthanasia has been a much debated nowadays all over the world. The debate has become increasingly significant because of the recent development in Netherlands and English where the use of euthanasia is allowed. As a result of this many nations across the world are now debating over whether or not to follow the Dutch example. In India also supreme court in the Aruna Shaunbaug vs Union of India allowed passive euthanasia in India in 2018.

Let's read about this controversial issue.

Meaning of Euthanasia:

Etymologically the word euthanasia has its origin in the Greek word euthanatos, meaning good death (from eu- " good, pleasant" + thanatos " good death or easy death"). Later, however in the wake of an interpretative shift, euthanasia generally came to be used, alongside its meaning of good death (merciful, good, beautiful, easy death) as the term of choice in connection with killing out of pity or compassion. The word euthanasia was first used in a medical context by Francis Bacon in the 17th century refer to an easy, painless, happy death, during which it was a physician responsibility to elevate the 'physical sufferings of the body'.

According to Black's Law Dictionary (8th edition), euthanasia means the act or practice of killing or bringing about the death of a person who suffers from a disease which has not been in treatment or is incurable a painful one for reasons of mercy. Encyclopaedia of Crime and Justice, explains euthanasia as an act of death which will provide a relief from a distressing or intolerable condition of living. Simply euthanasia is the practice of mercifully or peacefully ending a person's life in order to take off or release that person from the disease which can't be cured in future or there is no hope whether the person will live or not.

Euthanasia literary means putting a person to painless death especially in case of incurable suffering or when life becomes meaningless as a result of mental or physical handicap. In the modern context euthanasia is limited to the killing of patients by doctors at the request of the patient in order to free him of excruciating pain for from terminal illness. Thus, the basic intention behind euthanasia is to ensure a less painful death to a person who is in any case going to die after a prolonged illness.

Classification or types of euthanasia:

Euthanasia may be classified as follows:
  1. Active or positive euthanasia:
    It is defined as the intentional act of causing the death of a patient experiencing great suffering. It is illegal in France where as allowing patients to die is authorised by law under certain conditions and when a doctor administer lethal dose of medication to a patient.
  2. Passive or negative euthanasia:
    Euthanasia is passive when death is caused because a treatment that is sustaining the life of the patient is held of and the patient dies as a result there of. In "passive euthanasia" the doctors are not actively killing anyone they are simply not saving him. For example : when we remove the life supporting machine of a serious patient coma he will die due to that.
  3. Voluntary euthanasia:
    It is that when euthanasia is practiced with the expressed desire and content of the patient for stop this you the Asia is primarily concerned with the right to choice of the terminally ill patient who decides to end his or her life choice which serves his her best interest and also that of everyone else.
  4. Non voluntary euthanasia:
    It is that euthanasia conducted when the explicit consent of the individual concerned is unavailable such as when the person is in a persistent vegetative state or in the case of young children.
  5. Involuntary euthanasia:
    It is the one which occurs when you can Asia is performed on a person who would be able to provide informed consent but does not, either because they do not want to die or because they were not asked.

Various ways for euthanasia:

There various methods available through which euthanasia can be done some of these are:
  • Lethal injection:
    It is the practice of injecting one or more drugs into a person for the express purpose of causing rapid death or given a poison injection. This term may also be applied in a broader sense to include euthanasia and other forms of suicide. Poison like KCl etc is given to a person.
  • Asphyxiation:
    The most popular gas used is carbon monoxide (CO) which is a very poisonous gas. Nerve gases like sarin and tabun etc are also added in small amounts to fully ensure death of a person. One of the methods is also Dr Jack Kevorkian's death machine (mercitron, thanatron). He is also known as Dr Death. It is a unique method in which a person can end his life himself.

Landmark Judgements:
The question whether the right to die is included in article 21 of the Constitution came for consideration for the first time before the Bombay High court. It is as follows:
  1. State of Maharashtra vs Maruty Sripati Dubal:

    In this case the Bombay High Court held that the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 includes a right to die, and consequently the court struck down Section 309, IPC which provides punishment for attempt to commit suicide by a person as unconstitutional.
  2. Chenna Jagadeeswar vs State of A.P.:

    It was held that the right to die is not a fundamental right within the meaning of Article 21 and hence Section 309, IPC is not unconstitutional.
  3. P Rathinam vs Union of India:

    In this case a division bench of the supreme court comprising Mr Justice R.M. Sahai and Mr Justice Hansaria agreeing with the view of the Bombay High Court in Maruti Sripati Dubal case held that a person has a " right to die" and declared Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional which makes " attempt to commit suicide" a penal offence. The " right to live" in Article 21 of the Constitution includes the " right not to live" that is right to die or to terminate one's life.
  4. Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab:

    In this case, a five judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court has now overruled the P Rathinam's case and rightly held that:
    Right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution does not include " right to die" or " right to be killed". " The right to die", is inherently inconsistent with the " right to life" as is " death with life".
  5. Aruna Ramchandra Shaunbaugh vs Union of India:

    A two judge bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra laid down the first step towards the law of passive euthanasia.

Finally, on 9th March 2018, a five judge of the Constitution bench comprising then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan observed that right to die with dignity is a fundamental right and could not be separated from Right to Life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Lastly, I would like to conclude by saying that there is no point in prolonging the physical agony of a terminally ill person and also to see our loved ones suffering with mental trauma. Therefore, euthanasia should be made legal in those cases where there is no scope or hope of patient's recovery.

Also, the debate and discussion on Right to Die will continue as it is a debate based on a very serious and controversial issue.

  • State of Maharashtra vs Maruty Sripati Dubal, (1987) Cr LJ 549 (India)
  • Chenna Jagadeeswar vs State of A.P., (1988) Cr LJ 549 (India)
  • P Rathinam vs Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 394 (India)
  • Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab, (1996) 2 SCC 648 (India)
  • Aruna Ramchandra Shaunbaugh vs Union of India, AIR 2011 SC 1290 (India)

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