The Right to Die has always been a debatable topic in the global world. In India, it has been remained the hot topic since ages with respect to different religions. According to the Article 21 of the Constitution of India, “no person should be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”. Though this article is structured in negative form but the essence of it has an affirmative effect on an individual’s life. It confers moral and legal imperative on the state to give the citizens of the country a good and respectable life.
With the period of time, there have been various interpretations of the term “right to life” by various Indian Judges through different coming cases in front of them. Today, it has taken sever rights under its periphery. This include right to live a respectable life, right to have food, right to get proper education to all, right to get pollution free environment, right to get proper roof to live and various other rights for the better life of an individual. The question which arises now is whether the right to end one’s life also comes under the periphery of right to life with dignity. There have been various perspectives over this point which includes legitimate, political, virtuous and medical perspectives. However, for the first time this question was raised in the case of State of Maharashtra v. Maruty Sripati Dubal, where it was declared that right to die comes under the periphery of right to life but this decision was changed in later cases.
In a general way, the Right to die can be understood as right to end one’s own life. This can be done through suicide and euthanasia. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 punishes the attempt to suicide through the section 309 of the Code. Though it is a general understanding that the person who attempts suicide would be suffering from some mental health problem and still an individual is punished for the same which is debatable. The second method to die is through the pathway of euthanasia.
The term “euthanasia” comes from the liaison of the two Greek words: “eu” and “thantos”, meaning good and death, respectively. It is therefore considered the practice of ending an individual’s life of suffering and misery caused due to a condition that is beyond repair or a terminal illness, through suspension of medical facilities or injection, in order to rid the person off of the intolerable pain. It is often termed as an act of intentional taking of a person’s life in a painless manner, which is not worth living or, ‘mercy killing’ where the individual is set free off the irremediable life condition of suffering and pain.
Along with India, there have been various other countries where this issue has existed as a debatable topic whether it is U.S.A, Netherland or any other country. There have been various questions related to this that whether to live life with dignity doesn’t allow the person to die with dignity. Instead of unnecessary suffering, why can’t a person die with their own consent? After listening and considering all these questions, the apex court of India in the case of Aruna Shanbaug gave the judgment declaring that passive euthanasia is now legal in India.
The History of the Law :
The concept of Right to die is not a new notion in the global world. The human society has been witnessing it from the very previous ages. The history has seen it in the times of Roman and Greek civilization where in some cases it was seen that people used to help others to put them to death if needed. We can see it in the case of Sparta, a Greek city where child who were born with some disability were killed. The concept of voluntary euthanasia where an individual with his own consent use to practice euthanasia in the situation of illness was a notion which was performed in various ancient culture by the people of older age group. In various holy books and texts like the holy Bible, the holy Koran and the Rig Veda, there is mention of the concept of suicide or self-annihilation.
When we talk about India, we can witness various examples from the Vedic Age where people have applied their right to die and committed suicide on the basis of religious foundation. The same is evident in the case of Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Among Hindu’s there is difference of perspective present in the case of euthanasia. The one perspective says that the doctors who provide euthanasia, on the very first hand, should not accept such requests of the patient as it will lead to the unnatural death of the person separating his soul and body. Due to this act, both the doctors and the patient karma will get harmed. Another set of people believe that the euthanasia should not be practiced as it is opposite to the concept of ahimsa which works on the principle of not killing anyone. However, there are third sects of Hindus who believe in the practice of euthanasia as they consider ending someone’s life who is in pain and trouble is a moral obligation of a person and by doing this an individual is accomplishing a good deed.
In the case of Muslims, they do not believe in the concept of euthanasia. They believe that human and their life is very pious as it has been provided by the Allah and therefore only Allah has the right to take away someone’s life. The interference of humans is not allowed in this. The same is believed by mostly Christians. The reasoning which is mostly given by them is that God has gifted human with life and the cycle of birth and dying is made by God and to disturb it will lead to imbalance in this global world. Hence, whoever be the person and whatever be the situation, a human is not allowed to take someone else life.
In the case of Sikh, their thoughts are mostly extracted from their holy scripture named Guru Granth Sahib and the Rehat Maryada which talks about code of conduct of Sikhs. The concept of suicide and euthanasia was also denied by Sikhs as they also came forth with the same reasoning that it is obtrusion in the plan of God. They believe that pleasure and pain are part of the life that God has given them and they should make the best use of it instead of protesting.
Types of Euthanasia :
To understand the complexity of the concept of euthanasia, one must know the classification of euthanasia and the terms related to it. There have been various forms and types of euthanasia. It has been divided into four parts namely :
- Active Euthanasia – Active Euthanasia means where the doctor can directly end an individual’s life. The other names given to this process are, ‘Positive Euthanasia’ or ‘Aggressive Euthanasia’. The doctor may directly intervene and prescribe a painless method to end an individual’s life. The main element under this remains consent of the individual whose sufferings are irremediable and endless. This is a quicker method of dying through a lethal and high dose of drug or by injecting a lethal drug.
- Passive Euthanasia – Passive Euthanasia or ‘Negative Euthanasia’ or ‘Non-Aggressive Euthanasia’ is the practice of intentionally causing the death of an individual by withdrawing the necessary and essential care, food or water. It is an intentional discontinuation which also implies the removal of artificial life support facilities. It is considered as a slow killer and is more comfortable than the active method. It is only aided when the individual no longer remains mentally and physically alert. It is mostly done to the people who are in Persistent Vegetative State (PVS).
- Voluntary– As the term suggests, the Voluntary Euthanasia is when the person with his own consent or the consent from his legitimate guardians agrees to end his life through euthanasia. The consent of a patient should not come under any sort of forcefulness. If we look at international practice, this is the most acceptable form of euthanasia.
- Involuntary– Again, as the term suggests, the act of providing euthanasia to a person without his/her willful consent is known as Involuntary Euthanasia. It is also considered as a murder of the person.
- Non-voluntary– In the case of Non-voluntary Euthanasia, the person is not able to express his assent to die due to his illness. The family of the person decides on his behalf that it is better to end his life. Thus, the decision is taken by the family rather than the patient.
In the ancient, or often considered traditional times, euthanasia was labelled as a practice against the culture, religion and even the ethical human values. The transition from it being considered a malpractice to a legal right, was due to the term and extension of the practice of “Palliative Care”. The medical practice of providing care to those patients who suffer from any terminal illness. Under this, the patient’s needs and wants are taken care of and the process of decay and prolonged death is made comfortable in any way possible.
Every individual is born with a basic shield of human rights and amongst all such rights, Right to Life is the most essential right. It is the basic and undamental right which states that every human being has the right to live and cannot be killed by another being. This right is the umbrella right under which other rights get their light and backing.
Chronology of the Legal Advancements :
Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides this right to every person. Soon enough the people of the state began to question, “whether the right to life also entails the right to die?”. This started a massive debate and deliberations on the concept and its relevance in the Indian context. The two cases, M.S. Dubal v. State of Maharashtra (1986) and Chenna Jagadeeswar v. State of AP (1987), dealt with the positive and negative aspect of the rights given to the people and the violative nature of certain articles, respectively. Both the cases contradict one another on the “Right of Life includes Right to Die” topic.
In the case of M.S. Dubal v State of Maharashtra (1986), the conflict took place on the negative and positive aspects of the rights that were provided to the people. The court ruled that Right to Life under article 21 also contains the Right not to live.
In consequence of this, Section 309 of IPC was removed from the code. The reason that judges gave was that the willingness to end one’s life is not something unnatural, though it is rarely seen. The very decision was also supported in the case of P. Rathiman vs. Union of India. But, this decision was changed later on in the case of Gian Kaur v State of Punjab. In this case, a bench of five judges gave judgment that the right to die does not come under the ambit of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It was said that a person’s right to live is a natural right whereas right to die comes under the unnatural part of life and thus it can’t come under the ambit of natural rights.
The debate over this topic continued amongst the people on various platforms and soon in the path breaking judgment in the case of Aruna Shaunbaug v. Union of India (2011), the Supreme Court with its 5 judge bench remarked the relevance of the concept of euthanasia and the right to life can be interpreted as the right to a life of dignity and worth. This much awaited judgment which in itself was a hard battle, helped push the awareness quotient on this topic and the debate for the legalization of passive euthanasia thus entered into our society, but with the exception of it being practiced only on terminally ill patients and through the removal of medical life support. The recent case of Aruna Shaunbaug generated a plethora of opinions and
also made us look towards the status of the law in other countries and states which have legalized the practice.
In furtherance to such landmark cases, the Law Commission gave various recommendations in its reports time to time.
In the 42nd Report in 1971, it was stated that after reviewing Manu’s code and the law commentaries on it, it held that the commission of suicide was considered valid when the people was diseased and was living under miserable life conditions. It referred to the Vedic texts which upheld the values and importance of the persons who got rid of his own self as someone who would find salvation as they left the earthly pleasures. It considered the legal provisions of suicide as harsh and unjustifiable.
Later in the year 1997, the 156th Law Commission’s report held the validity of the criminalization of the offence of suicide and gave the credit to medical science and law. It supported the judgement given in the Gian Kaur case and the validity of the Penal section and supported the argument further with the prevalent societal evils like drug and trafficking and the existence of terrorism and those who attempted suicide under these events.
In 2008, the Law Commission in its 210th Report recommended the decriminalization of the section which punishes though who commit the offence of attempt to suicide, which is section 309 of the IPC. It also proposed amendments to the IPC.
In 2017, the nation welcomed its Mental Healthcare Act, repealing the previous act and de-criminalizing the “attempt to suicide” section. Section 115 of the act states:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the IPC, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under this Code; and
The government is duty bound to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to such a person in order to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.”
Euthanasia has emerged as a highly sensitive issue over a decade. Though there were thousands of debate over this topic with the coming cases but still there is not a clear concept regarding the euthanasia. As soon as the debate regarding euthanasia comes up, the various perspectives taking religion, morality and legality as base comes up which makes mercy killing a serious social and legal issue. The main point of contention in this whole debate is whether to save the individual’s right to do whatever he wants to do with his life including right to die or to save his right to life.
Today there is a need of well structured legislation with respect to euthanasia in a world especially India. The laws and regulations should be made with great precaution keeping in mind all the religious, cultural, philosophical, and physical aspects of the country. In my opinion, the passive and active euthanasia should be made legal but
under very rare circumstances and with proper investigation of the matter. There are situations where kith and kin and also physicians get greedy for the money and they exploit the life of the patient. To prevent this, we need to keep a strong check over the matter. The Government also needs to be considerate for middle and poor class of people who aren’t able to afford good medical facilities given in private hospitals. In India, the mere legalizing of passive euthanasia won’t be affective until and unless the medical facilities aren’t provided to all the citizens of the nation in an equal way.
As every individual has the right to live, they also have the right to form guided and well-aided opinions on matters that concern the most crucial decision of their lives. As citizens of a growing and developing nation, we must be aware and well guided through the examples set by other nations as well as their mistakes. When we look at the rate and usage of the medical facility of practicing euthanasia, we must understand that in this day and age, the misuse of such a practice is more likely than its benefits. To be able to equip the medical institutions with the facilities of euthanasia is a great risk as a collective effort. For a nation like India, it is a slippery slope to tread on as this practice may be done by those who are corrupted or by the weaker minds. It may become a tool in hands of the corrupt to demand and misguide a person’s will and consent in the name of “living will” or “PAS” or even “non-voluntary euthanasia”. As the practice not only encompasses the physical state of an individual but also the emotional and psychological aspects, there needs to be a greater sense of understanding before allowing active euthanasia or ‘living will’.
It is also considered medically unethical and it goes against the notions of nursing, healing and care giving oaths that medical officials undertake. To understand the dilemma of the family and the doctors while prescribing passive euthanasia is a painful and necessary task to the rid the person off of the futile resources and time without any assurance to the normalcy of life in the future. It is the level of mental consciousness that determines whether the individual receives the consent for passive killing. Therefore, such a decision is far more risk bearing and complex when the person is mentally alert.
To better the medical facilities in India with regard to Palliative Care of the terminally ill people can be an alternative approach. In other countries where such practices are legal have their rules and exceptions. In Netherlands and Belgium, it is permitted only in the case of terminally ill children and in Switzerland it is allowed only in the case of advanced malignancy or intractable pain and suffering.
Similarly, euthanasia means the practice of ending the life of a person who is suffering from terminal illness which is irremediable or has persistent pain or suffering and is not a life worth living. Therefore, the question to be understood and addressed are many. The debate remains ongoing on the subject and the factors that one must consider while deciding whether their life is not worth living any longer. The limelight remains on the allowance of active euthanasia and its implications. Whether the approval to this would bring justice to the people suffering or become the cause of the sufferings in the long run. It remains a conflict between the social norms and values, medical needs of the patient and his will and consent. It questions the standards and
scales which define and measure the quality of a persons’ life and whether such life can be ended on the individual’s consent.
It is proven that euthanasia provides a way to relieve the individual from the mammoth of sufferings as though they are alive on a burning pyre of intolerable pain. It gives the right to the beings to evaluate their essence of life and live and end it in a dignified manner without any force. The underlying principle of this is the consent and choice of the person. The battle of euthanasia as a legal remedy is tough and complex. It needs careful examination of the status quo of India, the mindset of the people, the acceptance and the presence of required equipment. If at all, it were to be legalized in India, there would be a requirement of stringent and well-structured laws that would guarantee the consent and will of the individual, monitoring the failure of all medical resources and methods to revive the person, intentions of the caregivers and medical officials, proper ways to ensure that no abuse of the law takes place and the review of circumstances under which the euthanasia is to be allowed.