Causing Death with the consent of the deceased-Euthanasia and its Constitutional Validity

Throughout history, numerous tribes or civilizations have adopted euthanasia in some form or another. In some circumstances, it was thought acceptable in ancient Greece and Rome to aid in another person’s death or to execute them. For instance, infants with serious birth abnormalities were executed at the Greek city of Sparta. Several ancient civilizations accepted the practice of old people being put to death voluntarily. However, when Christianity spread and gained influence in the West, euthanasia was seen as a violation of God’s gift of life and as morally repugnant. Although some allow limited types of passive euthanasia, today’s majority of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic denominations oppose active euthanasia. Western laws have often viewed helping someone die as a type of criminal homicide in accordance with traditional religious ideas (unlawful killing). The laws have grown more secularized in contemporary times, nonetheless. Euthanasia proponents contend that people have a constitutional right to die in whatever way they see fit based on the principles of individual liberty (such as those enshrined in the US Constitution). However, most nations (including the United States) have not completely embraced this stance and continue to place limitations on euthanasia.

Euthanasia is prohibited in India and is sanctioned under Section 300 Exception 5 of the Penal Code as culpable homicide that does not constitute murder. However, social scientists and lawyers are becoming more conscious that it should be permitted to end the lives of terminally sick patients. If passed, a law of this nature must have enough protections, oversight, and control to prevent abuse of the provision. In addition, Section 306 of the Penal Code and Section 309 of the same law make it illegal to aid in suicide and suicide attempt, respectively.

Case Laws relating to Euthanasia

Times of India, December 11, 2004, p. 1; K. Venkatesh

A very pitiful case involving a terminally ill 25-year-old lad who wanted to pass away peacefully so that he may give his organs to someone in need before being officially declared dead was brought before the Andhra Pradesh High Court. K. Venkatesh was on life support at Hyderabad’s Global Hospital. He was a talented chess player whose career was cut short by a debilitating case of muscular dystrophy. He was awake and aware of what was happening. However, he is speechless. Muscles slowly deteriorate due to muscular dystrophy, which is a fatal condition. Venkatesh was diagnosed with the illness when he was just 10 years old, and ever since he has been confined to a wheelchair. Even though Venkatesh’s muscles from his neck to his legs had ceased working, the life support system nevertheless allowed him to breathe. Once he is removed off the ventilator, the doctors predict that he won’t live. Due to the fact that it is against the law to remove a patient who is still alive from life support, the hospital’s physicians have declined to consider Venkatesh’s request for a “mercy killing.” According to medical professionals, “The hospital cannot do anything while the legislation of the nation does not permit mercy killing.” Venkatesh also acquired a significant chest infection, according to hospital doctors, in addition to dystrophy. He knew his time was limited, but he wanted to pass away before his organs become diseased. His organs won’t be in a usable state for transplantation once he passes away.

Decision

The Honorable High Court declined to grant the petition.

A dying man who wished to give his organs to a stranger before passing away made a humanitarian plea to the Honorable High Court, but it was denied. With all due respect, it is asserted that the Honorable Court could have adopted a pragmatic approach and applied the law while keeping in mind the goal and purpose for which the request was made, which was obviously to save a human life, as opposed to applying the law to the letter in a strict, literal sense. The request was made to preserve a person’s “right of life” when they were on their deathbed by providing them an opportunity to get treatment. There is no dispute that the “right to life” is an absolute and inalienable right. Venkatesh’s organs, whose days were already medically proclaimed to be numbered by the physicians, were used to replace the deceased organs. In this situation, Venkatesh was acting with the most altruistic motive: to provide a new lease of life to an unidentified person in order to light their candle. Perhaps it would have been preferable for the greater good if the Court, before making a final decision, had carefully considered the advantages and disadvantages of all the relevant factors after carefully reviewing the outcomes of related cases in various parts of the world and arrived at a fair judgment taking into account the humanitarian appeal of a poor boy to grant his “last wish” without arbitrarily rejecting the request. In situations like K. Venkatesh’s, denying euthanasia results in the person being forced to endure pain that he would not have had to endure if euthanasia had been permitted, as well as putting an end to the hope of life in another person who could have lived and “enjoyed” his “right to life” by receiving the organs that the former would have been able to donate. We discuss side effects when we discuss euthanasia. However, very few medications come without any negative effects. Do we cease taking our medications? Science seldom produces anything without unintended consequences. It is commonly recognized that using computers, cell phones, etc. has negative impacts.

Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

The validity of Section 309 of the I.P.C. has also been called into doubt, in addition to its moral propriety. S. 309’s constitutionality has been a topic of discussion in a number of court decisions. There have been divergent views expressed in these cases regarding the constitutional validity of the section; one has upheld the section’s constitutionality, while the other has struck it down for violating Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the “right to life.” This shows that both of the contentions have a strong case. Let’s now carefully review these contradicting top court decisions.

Section 309 states that;

Anyone who makes an attempt at suicide or does any action that would constitute such an offence is subject to a sentence of simple imprisonment for a time that may not exceed one year [or a fine, or both].

  1. State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Shripati Dubal, 1987 Cri LJ 743 (Bom.)

The Bombay High Court invalidated S. 309, IPC in 1987 because it violated Article 21 of the Constitution, which protects the “right to life and liberty.” According to the Court, the “right to life” encompasses both the “right to live” and the “right to end one’s life,” if one so chooses. According to Judge P. B. Sawant:

“Those who attempt suicide due to severe physical conditions, incurable diseases, torture, or a deteriorating physical condition brought on by old age or disability need nursing facilities, not prisons, to stop them from trying again.”

2-Union of India v. P. Rathinam and Naghbhusan Patnaik, AIR 1994 SC 1844

In 1994, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court composed of Justices R. M. Sahai and B. L. Hansaria upheld the decisions of the Bombay and Delhi High Courts (in the cases of Maruti Shripati Dubal and Sanjaya Kumar) and overturned the Andhra ruling (in the case of Chenna Jagdeshwar) while allowing petitions. By claiming that S. 309 of the IPC violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, the two petitioners contested its legality. The Supreme Court declared that S. 309, IPC was unconstitutional and that it violated Article 21 of the Constitution by being “cruel and unreasonable.” Expanding the purview of Article 21, the Court ruled that the right to life includes the “right not to live a life that is forced,” i.e., the right to end one’s life if one so chooses.

CONCLUSION

To start, we must ask, “Does Article 21 of the Constitution provide a “right to life” or a “liability of life”?” Let’s raise another question if the “right to life” really exists “Is a right something that should be exercised or imposed? Can someone be made to “enjoy” a right against their will?” With all due respect to the honorable courts and their rulings, in my opinion, the response to the second question is “A right is something to “enjoy” rather than “be imposed upon.” A person cannot be made to “enjoy” a right against his will “. However, by making euthanasia illegal, we are only imposing the “right to life” on someone for whom it is not a priority is nothing but a weight that he does not willing to bear. We are forcing him to have a “curse life,” one that is filled with mental and physical suffering, sorrow, and anguish, and we already know that it won’t last for very long.

References
India legal S, “Euthanasia – S.306, IPC Constitutionally Valid” (Euthanasia – S.306, IPC Constitutionally Valid) <https://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l120-Euthanasia.html&gt; accessed November 6, 2022

Math SB and Chaturvedi SK, “Euthanasia: Right to Life vs. Right to Die” (PubMed Central (PMC)) <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612319/&gt; accessed November 6, 2022

“Active Euthanasia – Scope and Validity under Abetment to Suicide – iPleaders” (iPleaders, November 9, 2020) <https://blog.ipleaders.in/active-euthanasia-scope-validity-abetment-suicide/&gt; accessed November 6, 2022

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