EUTHANASIA IN INDIA (HISTORICAL BACKGROUND and LEGAL ASPECTS)

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

Euthanasia has deep historical roots that go way before the ascendency of Christianity. Before Hippocrates, euthanasia was a “routine practice” and physicians assumed that they had the authority to kill those patients for whom there was no hope for recovery or survival. They accepted it as a part of their medical practice. In ancient Greece and Rome, attitudes toward infanticide, active euthanasia, and suicide tended to be tolerant. They had no defined belief in the inherent value of individual human life, and pagan physicians likely performed frequent abortions as well as both voluntary and involuntary mercy killings. Hippocrates regarded this act of killing as a hindrance to the establishment of confidentiality between physicians and patients. The Hippocratic Oath, “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel”, prohibited the doctors from either giving any deadly medicine or suggesting such a course of action. Only a few physicians followed this oath faithfully. Throughout classical antiquity, there was widespread support for voluntary death as opposed to prolonged agony, and physicians complied by often giving their patients the poisons they requested.

Euthanasia also has a dark history related to the Nazi past. The euthanasia program (also called Aktion T4), targeted the residents of institutions and hospitals caring for the mentally disabled and psychiatric patients. In October 1939, Hitler signed a decree that enabled the doctors to grant ‘mercy death’ to patients who they judged as ‘incurable’. The program began with the killing of children under three with “serious hereditary diseases” and those born with deformities. In the beginning, consent was sought from parents and legal guardians. But, this was couched in euphemisms that their children would be sent to “special sections and treatment centers” to receive better care. But, the children who were sent there, were quickly assessed and given lethal injections. The parents were told that their loved ones had died of pneumonia or other illness. Older children and those with no disability, who were troublesome or juvenile delinquents during the war, were picked up and sent to the special center. The program was extended to Jewish children. It was further expanded to include adults; also, the areas outside of Germany and more conditions, such as epilepsy, Huntington’s chorea, and advanced syphilis were included. In addition to this, the program began to use improved methods of killing, for instance, using carbon monoxide gas (first utilized in 1940). According to many authors, these methods were employed to maintain that they were medical measures rather than cold-blooded murder. Approximately 70,273 people were killed under this program. 

The first countries to legalize euthanasia was the Netherlands in 2001 and Belgium in 2002. In 1997 Oregon became the first state in the United States to decriminalize physician-assisted suicide; opponents of the controversial law, however, attempted to have it overturned. In 2009 the Supreme Court of South Korea recognized a “right to die with dignity” in its decision to approve a request by the family of a brain-dead woman that she is removed from life-support systems.

RELIGIOUS VIEWS:

  • Hindu views:
  1. By helping to end a painful life a person is performing a good deed and so fulfilling their moral obligations.
  2. By helping to end a life, even one filled with suffering, a person is disturbing the timing of the cycle of death and rebirth. This is a bad thing to do, and those involved in euthanasia will take on the remaining karma of the patient.

The same argument suggests that keeping a person artificially alive on life-support machines would also be a bad thing to do. However, the use of a life-support machine as part of a temporary attempt at healing would not be a bad thing. The ideal death is a conscious death, and this means that palliative treatments will be a problem if they reduce mental alertness.

  • Muslims views: 

They believe that all human life is sacred because it is given by Allah and that Allah chooses how long each person will live. Human beings should not interfere in this.

  1. Life is sacred – Euthanasia and suicide are not included among the reasons allowed for killing in Islam. Do not take life, which Allah made sacred, other than in the course of justice. If anyone kills a person – unless it is for murder or spreading mischief in the land- it would be as if he killed the whole people.
  2. Suicide and euthanasia are explicitly forbidden. “Destroy not yourselves. Surely Allah is ever merciful to you.
  • Christian views:

The arguments are usually based on the argument that life is a gift from God and that human beings are made in God’s image.

Birth and death are part of the life processes which God has created, so we should respect them. Therefore, no human being has the authority to take the life of any innocent person, even if that person wants to die. Sikhs derive their ethics largely from the teachings of their scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, and the Sikh Code of Conduct (The Rehat Maryada). 

  • The Sikh Gurus rejected suicide (and by extension, euthanasia) as interference in God’s plan. Suffering, they said, was part of the operation of karma, and human beings should not only accept it without complaint but act so as to make the best of the situation that karma has given them.

LEGAL ASPECTS:

Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees the Right to Life and personal liberty to all the people. The main question is whether it includes Right to Die as well. This question has undergone deliberations over the years and is considered a controversial issue.

Active Euthanasia is illegal in India and is considered a crime under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (punishment for murder) or Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and if the act is physically assisted suicide then it is a crime under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (Abetment to suicide). The cases of involuntary and non-voluntary euthanasia would be canceled out by the first proviso to Section 92 of the IPC, which talks about “Medical Negligence” and thus is considered illegal.

In the case of Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court held that Article 21 includes the right to die. Consequently, it struck down Section 309 and declared it unconstitutional. But, in the case of Chenna Jagadeesvar v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the Andhra Pradesh High Court held that the right to die is not a fundamental right within the meaning of Article 21 and hence, Section 309 is not unconstitutional.

The debate further in the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice R.M. Sahai and Justice Hansaria, agreed with the Bombay High Court. It was later contradicted and overruled in Gian Kaur v. the State of Punjab.

The landmark judgment of the Supreme Court on 7th March 2011 in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India legalized passive euthanasia in India. In this case, 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 except it being practiced only on terminally ill patients and through the removal of medical life support.

In 2017, the Mental Healthcare Act repealed the previous act and de-criminalized the “suicide attempt” section.

LAW COMMISSION REPORTS ON EUTHANASIA: The 42nd Report in 1971 held that the commission of suicide was considered valid when the people were ill and living under miserable living conditions. It referred to the Vedic texts which upheld the values and importance of the persons who got rid of themselves 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 Report held the validity of the criminalization of the offense of suicide and gave the credit to medical science and law. It supported the judgment 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 210th Report recommended the decriminalization of the section which punishes though who commit the offense of attempt to suicide, which is section 309 of the IPC. It also proposed amendments to the IPC.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

Do follow me on FacebookTwitter  Youtube and Instagram.

The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems at adv.aishwaryasandeep@gmail.com

We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.

We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge

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