Euthanasia in India – The Unsettling debate: Santhara and Passive Euthanasia

Traditions and customs have gradually and continuously interlinked with the society in an unbreakable and in an un-separable way. But sometimes these customs and traditions result in being a social evil for the society. As commonly said, “Time is changing and we should change with time” is the basic rule of nature. India has witnessed the growth of religion as well as the morals of the people. The acts of legalization of passive euthanasia and criminalizing Santhara, the religious practice of the Jain community, have always been in controversy. 

Santhara is a 300-year-old custom that is practiced by Jains till today. This practice has been prescribed in the Jain scriptures as a way to achieve a peaceful and a dignified death. It is believed that it is a welcome to the death of a person that helps in accomplishing the feeling of self-actualization and spiritual liberation.

In 2006, A Public Interest Litigation was documented in the Rajasthan High Court in order to ban this practice of Santhara. The Hon’ble High Court of Rajasthan declared this practice illegal as it attracts sec 306 and 309 of the Indian penal code. The Hon’ble High Court has declared this practice as a method of attempting suicide that is illegal and against the laws of the land because Article 21 of the constitution grants the citizens of India “Right To Life” but not “Right To Die”. Apparently, Supreme Court has declared a stay on the judgment given by High Court. Thousands of individuals are sitting tight for the judgment of the Supreme Court in order to see whether India is a secular nation in a genuine sense or it’s only a myth.

Are they different altogether?

Santhara is believed that it is the most peaceful, serene and desirable type of death. The concept of ‘Ichcha Mrityu’ has been a constant theme of our culture. In our mythology, it has been described as a rare gift, reserved only for the greatest of souls and those who earned it as the ultimate reward for their righteous karma and dharma.

According to Jain scriptures an individual takes Santhara under the following circumstances

  1. After attaining Old age or by suffering from any terminal disease from which death appears imminent.
  2.  If there is any difficulty to perform normal bodily function.
  3.  If the person has fulfilled all his responsibilities towards his family.
  4. The person must voluntarily choose Santhara in a good mental and emotional health.
  5. If one wants to remove his bad karma
  6. If the person is strong believer of god and religion and has desire to attain moksha.
  7.  Permission has been granted from family members and relatives or in a situation where the family has consented for practicing Santhara.

In passive euthanasia, the medical professors deliberately act or omit something that causes the death of the patient, whereas, in Santhara, the individual reduces and eventually gives up the intake of food and water to attain the ultimate goal of life, i.e., moksha. Santhara is about letting go of sensual pleasures and passions, greed, anger, deceit and ego. It is different from suicide.

The Black’s law dictionary interpreted the word as the practice of killing a person as an act of mercy since the person has been suffering from an incurable disease for a very long time.

The main objective of euthanasia is to confirm that the person dies a less painful death. There are various ways of euthanasia:

  1. Voluntary Euthanasia: When the patient willfully expresses his/her consent to have a peaceful death, which would somehow benefit the patient.
  2. Involuntary Euthanasia:  The patient is killed without any consent, which is merely opposed to the act of euthanasia. It will amount to murder.
  3. Non-voluntary Euthanasia: It is the case where the life of a patient, who is unable to make decisions because of his/her mental illness, is put to an end.
  4. Passive Euthanasia: This is also known as negative euthanasia; it is the situation where the treatment, which was being given to a patient, is stopped, which would lead to the death of the person.
  5. Active Euthanasia: It is also known as positive euthanasia. It mainly involves putting the life of individuals to death for mercy reasons.

Aruna shanbaug v. UOI

The deceased was attacked by a sweeper and was tied with a dog chain around her neck; the sweeper tried to sodomize her and also twisted the chain around her neck. Later, she was admitted, and because of the chain tied to her neck, the oxygen was not adequately supplied to her brain, and as a result, her brain got damaged. For a time of 36 years, she was lying in the hospital in a persistent vegetative state.

In 2011 in the Aruna Shanbaug case, the Court had allowed passive euthanasia, but that too under some rigid guidelines. The Court directed a specialized team of doctors who will ensure that the patient demanding passive euthanasia is actually in need of it or not. 


‘Nothing lives forever.’

So is right in the case of human beings. But there arise many questions as to whether the man is the master of his death or not.

The devout Jains believe that Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankar, allowed Santhara, as the ultimate test of spirituality, will power, whose ultimate goal is purifying body and mind and facing death voluntarily. For Jains, for instance, the concepts of moksha and rebirth are linked to the nature and quality of death. The purpose of Santhara is to cleanse the spirit, prepare it for rebirth and, by choosing death through this method, become the determiner of the next birth. Santhara is a step beyond the passive euthanasia.

“I don’t think the state has any role to play in an individual’s choice to die, beyond asserting that the individual is not being coerced to make that decision,” said Gandhi.

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.

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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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