Right to life means the right to lead meaningful, complete and dignified life. Right to life is a natural basic right given to every human being. In India it is guaranteed under Part III (Article 21) of the Indian constitution. Article 21 of Indian constitution states that – “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”
Here personal liberty in Indian constitution means the right of an individual to be free from any restrictions and encroachments on his person, whether they are directly imposed or indirectly brought about by calculated measures.
This fundamental right confers an obligation on the state to ensure good quality of life, livelihood, liberty and a dignified life to the people, both citizen and otherwise.
Right to die basically means that a person has a right to end their life or be voluntary euthanized. Now the question arises that what is Euthanasia?
Euthanasia derived from greek roots, “Eu” means ‘well or good” and “Thanatos” means – Death which means Good Death. Euthanasia refers to deliberately ending someone’s life at the explicit request of the person who wishes to die. Euthanasia in simple words is defines as the act of killing an incurably ill person out of concern and empathy for that person’s suffering. Further euthanasia is classified in four categories
- Active Euthanasia
It is when a doctor directly ending someone’s life by purposely giving someone a lethal dose of Sedative. Sedative is a type of prescription medication that slow down the working of brain activity .
- Passive Euthanasia
It is describes as stopping or limiting life sustaining treatments so that a person passes more quickly. That is maybe just switching off the life support machine or prescribe increasingly high doses of pain killing medications. Overtime, the doses may become toxic.
- Voluntary Euthanasia
If someone makes conscious decision to seek help for ending their life, it’s considered as voluntary euthanasia. The person must give their full consent and express that they fully understand what will happen.
- Involuntary Euthanasia
It involves someone else making the decision to end someone’s life. A close family member usually makes the decision. This is done when someone is completely unconscious or permanently incapacitated.
Now talking about the legality many arguments were put forth :-
Arguments for legalizing euthanasia
- The major argument in favour of this is that, it is a way to end an extremely miserable and painful life.
- The family member of the dying patient are relieved of the physical, emotional, economical and mental stress upon them. It also provides comfort to the patient and causes relief of his pain.
- Performance of euthanasia will free up the medical funds of the state to help the poor and needy people
- The patients also have a right to refuse medical treatment. If a doctor treats the patient against his express wishes, he can be charged with assault.
- An individual has the freedom to exercise the right to die. The constitution gurantees the fundamental rights and freedoms where a positive right includes a negative right. For example, freedom of speech includes within it freedom not to speak.
Arguments against legalizing euthanasia
- Indian society, driven by religion will not accept the concept of euthanasia as the religious scriptures defy it.
- Commercialization of euthanasia can take place.
- The poor people could resort to it in order to avoid pecuniary difficulties of medications.
- Old and destitute are sometimes refers to as burden and people can make use of this to show off their responsibilities.
- Allowing euthanasia will devalue human dignity and will offend the principle of sanctity of life. It will leave sick, disabled people more vulnerable than the rest of the population and can also provide a ‘cloak for murder’.
CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY OF RIGHT TO DIE IN INDIA
The journey from being a mere right of dying till gaining a constitutional validity and becoming a fundamental right i.e. “Right to die” under article Article 21 of the Indian constitution has not been smooth. Many judgments were passed not to declare right to die as a fundamental right.
For the first time issue related with “right to die” was raised before the high court of Bombay in case of Shripati Maruti Dupal V. State Of Maharashtra 1987. This case was filed to include “Right to Die” being fundamental right. The Bombay High court struck down section 309 (punishment for attempt to commit suicide) of Indian penal code and held it unconstitutional. The high court also held that right to life includes right to die.
Similar judgment was passed by the supreme court in the case of P Rathinam V. Union Of India 1994 and held that article 21 of Indian constitution include right to die and laid down section 309 of Indian penal code unconstitutional.
The issue of “Right to die” then again raised before the court in Gian Kaur V. State Of Punjab 1996. In this case a five judge constitution bench of Honourable Supreme court overruled the P Rathinam’s case and held that Right to life under article 21 of Indian constitution does not include Right to die or right to be killed and there is no ground to hold that the section 309 of Indian penal code is constitutionally invalid. The real meaning of word ‘life’ in under article 21 of constitution means life with human dignity.
Later in the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug V. Union Of India 2011, here Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug from last thirty six years was suffering and was surviving on mashed food and was not able to move her hands or legs without any possibility of improvement in her condition in future, the court allowed passive euthanasia.
The Honourable Supreme Court opined that “When such an application is filed the Chief Justice of The High Court should forthwith constitute a Bench of at least two Judges who should decide to grant approval or not. Before doing so the Bench should seek the opinion of a committee of three reputed doctors to be nominated by the Bench after consulting such medical authorities/medical practitioners as it may deem fit. Preferably one of the three doctors should be a neurologist; one should be a psychiatrist, and the third a physician. For this purpose a panel of doctors in every city may be prepared by the High Court in consultation with the State Government/Union Territory and their fees for this purpose may be fixed.
The committee of three doctors nominated by the Bench should carefully examine the patient and also consult the record of the patient as well as taking the views of the hospital staff and submit its report to the High Court Bench. Simultaneously with appointing the committee of doctors, the High Court Bench shall also issue notice to the State and close relatives e.g. parents, spouse, brothers/sisters etc. of the patient, and in their absence his/her next friend, and supply a copy of the report of the doctor’s committee to them as soon as it is available. After hearing them, the High Court bench should give its verdict. The above procedure should be followed all over India until Parliament makes legislation on this subject.
Finally, The Supreme Court on March 9, 2018, by this landmark ruling made “Right to Die” is part of fundamental right and allowed passive euthanasia permitting “living will” (a will signed by the patients voluntarily that in case of irreversible coma, the medical support should be removed) with advanced directives. This judgment will have its effects until legislation comes into force in this regard.
In the words of Dr. Jack Kevorkian
“For those who are facing a terminal illness, who are in irremediable pain and suffering, and wish to exercise their right to die with dignity, a system should be available to them”.
Death is inevitable. Nobody can escape from death. But one thing which everyone deserves in his life is Right to life as well as the Right to die with DIGNITY. No one should be deprived of this right. The sacredness of human life does not imply the forceful continuation of existence in pain and suffering. As given that a person should lead a dignified life, he cannot be forced to live to his detriment. If a person suffers from an incurable disease it would be inhumane to compel him live a painful life. A terminally ill person should be permitted to terminate his pain and suffering by choosing it to do so.
Although this right to die with dignity is very helpful for many people but there are a few chances of exploitation of this right. The poor status of education and legal awareness among Indian masses might become a cause of exploitation of these directives by the greedy heirs.
Recognition of right to die with dignity for terminally ill patient is only one side of the coin. The question as to how this right would be interpreted and decided for the people demanding to embrace death due to various pressing reasons such as old age, destitution and lack of opportunity to die with dignity in India remains unanswered.
- The constitution of India, bare text- https://legislative.gov.in
- The right to die with dignity : the Indian supreme court allows passive euthanasia and living wills
- To live with dignity also include a right to die with dignity , says India supreme court
- Does right to life include right to die? – https://blog.ipleaders.in/right-to-lifr-include-right-to-die/
- Law commission of India, 241st report on passive euthanasia a relook
- Article 21 of the constitution of India – https://legalserviceindia.com/article/aet222htm
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.
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