"Please Die!" But do you have the right?
The right to die is a concept that closely contradicts the concept of the Right
to life under article 21 of the Indian Constitution based on the opinion that
human beings are entitled to end their life or undergo euthanasia voluntarily
the same way as they have the right to life.
In common parlance, this right is often understood that a person with a terminal
illness, or without the will to continue living, should have the option to end
their own life, use assisted suicide, or to decline life-prolonging treatments
such as ventilators and the sort.
In this article, we will move away from this perspective and will only think of
arguments that exclude people with a terminal illness or that are in a
Just so that you know, the current position in India is that a person who is
terminally ill or is in a vegetative state can approach the court and seek
permission to end his life.
The Supreme court also enables a person of sound mind and health to make a
'living will' specifying that in the event of him/her slipping into a terminal
medical condition in the future, his/her life should not be prolonged through
the life support system. The person concerned can also authorize, through the
will, any relative or friend to decide in consultation with medical experts when
to pull the plug.
Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code: Whoever attempts to commit suicide and
does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with
simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year 1[or with fine, or
Therefore, If you try to kill yourself unnaturally, you are liable to be
prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code. This brings us closer to a question: Do
we not have the right to die?
Have you ever thought of death? I know you have, death is a part of life which
everyone knows will come to them sooner or later. But everyone doesn't talk
about it much, But put this thing in our head your not an immortal and it will
sooner or later caught hold of you. Have you ever heard of murder, where a
person kills the other and then is punished by the juducual system, if i tell
you there's a case where a person asks the other person to kill him and gives
his consent to him to do the same, will that amount to murder? Will that person
who was asked to kill be behind the bars?.
A great poet quotes, "I'm not afraid of being dead. I'm just afraid of what you
might have to go through to get there."
What is Euthanasia?
Euthanasia is the practice of ending a person's life in order to free the person
from incurable pain of disease or terminal illness. The word Euthanasia derives
from the Greek for good death and originally referred to intentional mercy
killing. In modern times Euthanasia is limited to killing of patients at the
request of the patients by the doctors to free the patient from terminal
It can also be treated as a mercy killing, where if a person is under pain or is
suffering from incurable disease where we know that the person will die sooner,
and to get rid of his pain and to show mercy we can take the help of euthanasia.
The practice of euthanasia was firstly started in 1958 in New Zealand were
people who were under serious pain and were suffering from incurable disease can
The case which I mentioned earlier, Nothing here would be termed to be as murder
and the person who did practise euthanasia on him will not be punished, unless
it was done without Informing the person was not under serious pain or was
suffered with some disease which was curable.
Does morality come into play in the form of bioethics as a main cause for not
legalizing right to die?
Thomas Mann had in 1924 said; a mans dying is more the survivor affair than his
own. Today his words are considered to be true as there is a wide range of
debate on legalizing euthanasia. Euthanasia has been accepted in some form or
the other by certain societies in history. In ancient Rome and Greece helping to
die or putting them to death was considered permissible in some situations. For
instance, in the Greek city of Sparta newborns with severe birth defects were
put to death. Voluntary euthanasia for the elderly was an approved custom in
several ancient societies.
Talking about morality and ethics, the fact that sometimes people with terminal
illness would rather like to embrace death 'peacefully' than clinging on to life
filled with intractable pain and suffering. Death is something which ones think
that he may receive in a peaceful way, telling of morals and ethics, seeing
someone suffering and knowing that he might never leave the bed or never recover
is a sign of not to judge this aspect with morals. What will you do seeing a
person in pain? You would help him and try to reduce his/her pain, so that he
might be relied.
These what ethics and morals talks about, some people would critise that we
cannot kill someone using are morals. Yes, you're right but to some extent, but
tell me when someone's pet gets infected and he cannot recover from that
infection what the pet owners do? they show their morals and help their pet not
to suffer more pain, same goes with human, you know that he wont recover or he
is in insufferable pain or a person is in coma for many years there's no chance
that he'll get up from that, you have to set aside your morals for time being
and help the suffering one, and if you would listen to your so called morals
you'll do the same. And you need to note that you cannot compare morals and
KARMA at the same time, both are different aspects in your life.
In our society, the palliative care and quality of life issues in patients with
terminal illnesses like advanced cancer and AIDS have become an important
concern for clinicians. Parallel to this concern has arisen another
controversial issue-euthanasia or "mercy killing" of terminally ill patients.
Proponents of physician-assisted suicide feel that an individual's right to
autonomy automatically entitles him to choose a painless death.
According to The Medical Treatment of Terminally ill patients (Protection of
Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill 2006, 'terminal illness' means:
- Such illness, injury or degeneration of physical or mental condition which
is causing extreme pain and suffering to the patients and which, according to
reasonable medical opinion, will inevitably cause the untimely death of the
patient concerned, or
- Which has caused a 'persistent and irreversible vegetative' condition under
which no meaningful existence of life is possible for the patient.
Thus according to it, the patient must be suffering some ailment causing extreme
pain and suffering, which according to equitable and unbiased medical opinion,
will lead to his death sooner or later. Second scenario is when the patient has
slipped into Irreversible Permanent Vegetative State. These patients without
active lifesaving mechanisms or life prolonging procedures will die a natural
death. Thus one would like to ask would it be reasonable to simply keep the
patient alive if he is suffering from intractable pain, psychological and
emotional distress just for the sake of keeping him alive.
Euthanasia can be categorized into two types: active and passive:
- Active Euthanasia:
When a person directly and deliberately does something
which results in the death of patient. Here specific steps/procedures are
undertaken (by the third party) like the administration of a lethal drug. This
is a crime in India (and in most parts of the world) under the Indian Penal Code
Section 302 or 304. There are countries which have passed legislation permitting
assisted suicide and active euthanasia. The differences between them are in the
former, patient himself administers lethal medications and in the later doctor
or some other person does it.
In Netherlands, euthanasia is sanctioned by the passage of "Termination of Life
on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act" 2002 providing well
defined guidelines for the same. Belgium was the second nation to take a stand
in this direction. In Switzerland assisted suicide can be performed by
non physicians . Both Active Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide are legal in
Luxembourg since 19th February 2008. Apart from these handfuls of nations, none
in Europe have legalized Active Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide.
In USA, active euthanasia is a criminal offence except in the states of Oregon,
Washington and Montana where strict guidelines are in place. It is important to
mention that the state of Michigan banned euthanasia and assisted suicide after
Dr. Kevorkian (infamously known as 'Doctor Death') recklessly encouraged and
assisted in suicides.
- Passive Euthanasia:
It involves withholding of medical treatment or
withdrawal from life support system for continuance of life (like removing the
heart- lung machine from a patient in coma). Hence in passive euthanasia death
is brought about by an act of omission. Euthanasia can be further classified as
'voluntary' where euthanasia is carried out at the request of the patient and
'non-voluntary' where the person is unable to ask for euthanasia (perhaps
because he is unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate), or to make a
meaningful choice between living and dying and a surrogate person takes the
decision on his behalf.
Legally speaking voluntary euthanasia is illegal as it
can be interpreted as attempt to commit suicide which is punishable under Indian
Penal Code section 309. The same was advocated by the judgment from the
Constitution Bench of the Apex Court in the year 1996 in Gian Kaur vs. State of
Punjab where it stated that the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the
Constitution does not include the right to die.
Notwithstanding these legal predicaments, passive euthanasia is not illegal in
most parts of the world including India; provided certain standard safeguards
are present as demonstrated by Supreme Court in Aruna Shanbaug case, which we
will be discussing here. To put things into right perspective let us ask
ourselves a simple question, what is the need of Euthanasia?
Before the industrial and scientific revolution, the scientists had not invented
the artificial ways of keeping a terminally ill patient alive, like ventilators,
heart lung machines, artificial feeding, etc. Such patients would have naturally
died during the ordinary course of nature. With the scientific revolution, there
was better and in-depth understanding of the human body.
was advent of new technology and machines, through which it is possible to
prolong the life. Even though the patients are kept alive, often they will be in
extreme physical pain and suffering (emotional, social and financial). At this
stage let's reiterate that these advanced intensive care procedures which we are
referring here, will by no means cure/control the disease, but it will only
prolong the agony as well as existence of terminally ill patients.
Talking about India, India also legalised the practise of euthanasia in the
country, but there's only passive euthanasia legalized and not the active
euthanasia. As the active euthanasia can be used in a unlawful manner by the
countrymen to kill someone they had arguments or in some property matters. The
order of legalizing euthanasia came in the year 2011 by the Supreme Court Of
India in Aruna Shonbaug Case
, where the facts of the case were;
Aruna Shanbaug was a nurse working at the King Edward Memorial Hospital, Parel,
Mumbai. On 27 November 1973 she was strangled and sodomized by Sohanlal Walmiki,
a sweeper. During the attack she was strangled with a chain, and the deprivation
of oxygen has left her in a vegetative state ever since. She has been treated at
KEM since the incident and is kept alive by feeding tube. On behalf of Aruna,
her friend Pinki Virani, a social activist, filed a petition in the Supreme
Court arguing that the "continued existence of Aruna is in violation of her
right to live in dignity".
The Supreme Court made its decision on 7 March 2011.
The court rejected the plea to discontinue Aruna's life support but issued a set
of broad guidelines legalising passive euthanasia in India. The Supreme Court's
decision to reject the discontinuation of Aruna's life support was based on the
fact that the hospital staff who treat and take care of her did not support
euthanizing her. She died from pneumonia on 18 May 2015, after being in a coma
for a period of 42 years.
On 25 February 2014, while hearing a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause, a
three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India observed that the judgment in
Aruna Shanbaug case was based on a wrong interpretation of the constitution
bench judgment in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab. Court observed that the judgment
in inconsistent in itself as though it observes that euthanasia can be allowed
only by legislature yet it goes on to lay down guidelines on the same.
Therefore, court has referred the issue to a constitution bench which shall be
heard by a strength of at least five judges. Court observed:
In view of the inconsistent opinions rendered in Aruna Shanbaug and also
considering the important question of law involved which needs to be reflected
in the light of social, legal, medical and constitutional perspective, it
becomes extremely important to have a clear enunciation of law. Thus, in our
cogent opinion, the question of law involved requires careful consideration by a
Constitution Bench of this Court for the benefit of humanity as a whole. The
Five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court was tasked with deciding whether Article
21 of the Constitution includes in its ambit the right to die with dignity by
means of executing a living wills/advance directives.
Legalization of euthanasia simply means granting an individual his natural right
to die or terminate his life owing to non-normalcy of life or bad quality of
life due to medical reasons. Attempt to suicide under mental coercion is
punishable under law, but asking for granting of death due to perpetual
suffering of an individual is not punishable. In most of the cases when an
individual suffers with Persistent Vegetative State (PVS), the court grants
physician assisting suicide with a standing consent from the patient showing his
willingness to die and there is no undue influence while deciding so. The
willingness should be out of the ground fact that there is no hope in
improvement in quality of life in the future.
After reading this article many minds would have the question that why we should
legalise euthanasia? Why we need to kill someone if there is no scope of
recovery, might a miracle could happen and the person could be back at his feet.
Do you still think miracle happen? apart from movies and television shows? Then
why Aruna shonbaug didn't recovered from coma, why she was in coma for 42 years?
Why no miracle happened with her, she was in a need to seek it. The only miracle
that exists is when you recover from the disease, when you a sign that you're
body is healing and is fighting from what you're going through.
The need to legalize euthanasia is for the betterment of the patients and for
their families, and the need is now because of the following reasons,
Moral Objectives: It is morally incorrect to keep a person fighting for no cause
when all hope is lost. The sufferer and his fraternity go through mental trauma
for a long period of time. The society is obligated to acknowledge the rights of
patients and to respect the decisions of those who elect euthanasia. Every
individuals right to self-determination or his right of privacy needs to be
respected. Interference to such rights can be justified if it is to protect
values, which is not the case where patients suffering unbearably at the end of
their lives request euthanasia leaving them with no alternatives. People can't
suffer against their will. It is plain cruelty on them and cessation of their
human rights and dignity.
Individual's right to exercise his choice: Firstly deciding if one wants to live
or die is a personal decision. Every individual has his/her own rights over
their body. When the birth of an individual is not questioned by anyone
naturally death as well should not be a speculative debate. A painless death is
better than a painful life. The increase in patients of Cancer, AIDS and other
dreadful and irreparable diseases has sparked a world-wide need of euthanasia or
mercy killing. Especially in the final stages of such diseases which are
incurable the want of euthanasia is justified.
Economic Factor: Economic concern in a country like India is of primary
importance. The medical charges are unaffordable for the needed medical care;
unsure if the patient is going to improve in any possible way or remain as he
is. And every irreparable disease attracts a big amount of risk and money which
can't be ignored.
Moreover, there is increasing pressure on hospital and medical
facilities; it is argued that the same facilities should be used for the benefit
of other patients who have a better chance of recovery and to whom these
facilities provided by the hospital would be of greater value. Thus, the
argument runs, when one has to choose between a patient beyond recovery and one
who may be saved, the latter should be preferred as the former will die in any
Euthanasia, both in active and passive form, should be allowed in every society.
It should be legalized owing to the amount of pain an individual goes through
due to the fatal disease or disorder for a long period of time. Having a patient
suffer endlessly is not giving him a better quality of life. The kind of quality
of life is defined by the patient, not the doctor or government. Consequently,
when the patient feels he is not getting the quality of life he wants the
doctors can insist upon Physician Assisted Death (PAD). Supporters of active
euthanasia contend that since society has acknowledged a patient right to
passive euthanasia , active euthanasia should similarly be permitted. Court
needs to lay reasonable grounds as to why there is a refusal in the first place
to grant euthanasia; be it active or passive.
When arguing on behalf of
legalizing active euthanasia, proponents emphasize circumstances in which a
condition has become overwhelmingly burdensome for the patient, pain management
for the patient is inadequate, and only death seems capable of bringing relief.
In a liberal democracy like India where Fundamental Rights are given highest
significance over any other substantial law, right to die should be treated at
par with the fundamentals of the constitution.
Euthanasia During Coronavirus Scare
There has not been, in living memory, more focus on healthcare, the vital role
of doctors, the sacrifices made by nurses, and the wonderful efforts of everyone
involved in the sector. Amid the coronavirus crisis, daily heroism, the scale of
human loss, and the awful scenes in hospitals underline what is important - and
what is not.
It will surprise some that in the Netherlands, the only dedicated clinic
providing euthanasia and assisted suicide has closed. Euthanasia Expertise
Centre (formerly known as End of Life Clinic) has suspended all euthanasia
procedures. The clinic's website says that existing procedures have been put on
hold and new patients are no longer admitted.
The centre - which in 2019 alone
ended the lives of 898 patients suffering from cancers, psychiatric problems,
early on-set dementia, and accumulated age-related complaints - is willing to
make an exception only for those expected to die soon and those who may soon
lose their capacity for decision-making. Similarly, in Belgium, Jacqueline Herremans, a member of the federal commission reviewing euthanasia, has noted
that there are few resources and even fewer doctors available for euthanasia at
the moment: 'The most important thing right now is that we fight the coronavirus.'
In Canada, authorities are also shutting down services. For a process that
requires two different medical assessments and witnesses, the lives involved are
not worth the risk. According to the Globe and Mail, two places in Ontario,
where euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legal since 2016, have stopped
providing medical assistance in dying (MAID) because of the coronavirus pandemic
(one has since resumed for existing patients and those whose deaths are
The Euthanasia Expertise Centre explains its decision on its website,
noting that in 'the interest of public health, our patients, their loved ones
and employees of the expertise centre, it is no longer responsible to continue
our current care provision'. As it admits, 'euthanasia care cannot be identified
as a top priority in healthcare'. In Canada, health authorities said that MAID
is being cut back along with other 'elective services'.
This is an extraordinary admission. Those carrying out euthanasia in the
Netherlands, where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal, and those
campaigning to change the law in places like the UK, have long insisted that
assisted dying is necessary to alleviate 'unbearable suffering'. To shut down
euthanasia clinics and services because of the danger of infection from Covid-19
means that those who perform euthanasia no longer believe their services are
necessary; otherwise, many of them would brave the risk and dispatch suffering
What the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated is that the need for euthanasia and
assisted suicide is abstract rather than practical. In the Netherlands in the
1980s, assisted dying started out as the ultimate solution to impending horrible
deaths. In present times, with a high level of care for the dying available in
most countries with good healthcare, assisted dying is not about actual deaths,
but about deaths that people fear. The reality is that most people die peaceful
deaths. But many fear loss of control and find the prospect of others caring for
Covid-19 brings the reality of death, the necessity of caring for others and
being cared for by others, into our living rooms, making the preciousness of all
lives and the tragedy of all deaths real. We see the humanity of the elderly and
frail; no longer are they burdens to be dispatched from this world, but victims
of horrifying disease that all are invested in fighting.
In a few months we may return to normal, in which case euthanasia clinics will
return to granting people's wishes to no longer be, to escape this life, or to
be in control of their deaths. Perhaps, though, we can remember this time when
we made huge sacrifices to preserve every life, no matter how frail and
vulnerable. We can remember this time when euthanasia no longer seemed