The present article has been written by Gracy Singh, a 2nd-year student pursuing a BA.LLB (Hons.) from Mody University of Science and Technology, Lakshmangarh, Rajasthan.
The term ‘euthanasia’ derives from Greece which means good death. Euthanasia is the practice of ending a patient’s life who is suffering from a painful disease or an irreversible coma. A person is allowed to end their life with the help of medicines prescribed by a physician. Several nations such as the United States, Switzerland, Canada, Netherlands, etc. have legalized this practice and this has led people to move to these countries to free themselves from a terminal illness.
There are different types of Euthanasia some of which are discussed below:-
- Active Euthanasia – a patient is killed by injecting a lethal dose of the drug.
- Passive Euthanasia – a patient is killed by withholding artificial support like a ventilator.
- Voluntary Euthanasia – a patient is killed ended by their consent
- Involuntary Euthanasia – a patient is killed without their consent
- Mercy Killing – a patient is killed to end the suffering without their explicit consent
- Physician-assisted Suicide – a patient is allowed to kill themselves with medications prescribed by the physician.
Euthanasia is a very controversial topic in India. IPC provides for the legal status for passive euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. However, active euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are still not legal in India. It is an offense under Section 302 or 304 of IPC that states the punishment for murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder. In 2018, the Supreme Court with a specific guideline, legalized mercy killing for a terminally ill patient. This direction to legalize passive euthanasia in India is derived from International Conventions and foreign decisions. Article 21 of the Constitution of India talks about ‘Right to Life’ but the Right to Die is not given and the state is supposed to aid healthcare for the citizens.
Arguments against Euthanasia
- Eliminating the invalid – It is argued by the opposers of Euthanasia that people with incurable illnesses will be disposed from our society if we embrace the right to death with dignity. Palliative care (active and compassionate care for the dying) could be provided for the patient and the caregiver that would relieve pain and distressing symptoms.
- Constitution of India – Right to Life stated in Article 21 is a natural right and is inconsistent with the concept of the right to die. The state must protect life and a physician’s duty is to provide health care. The State may refuse to provide health care or invest in health if euthanasia is legalized.
- Mayfield intention – Euthanasia can be misused by relatives or family members to inherit the property of the patient. Mercy killing would be converted into killing mercy in the hands of medical professionals. Hence, to protect the patient and the medical practitioners from any lawsuits it should not be legalized.
- The commercialization of health care – It is argued that if euthanasia is legalized in India, poor, disabled, or elderly people will be left to die or withdrawn from treatment for the sake of money. This condition is still seen in a majority of hospitals where members refuse treatment because of the huge amount of money.
Counterargument of Euthanasia supporters
- Right to Die – The supporters of Euthanasia argue that people with incurable or disabling conditions should be given the Right to die so that they can die with dignity.
- Encouraging organ transplantation – Euthanasia will provide the opportunity for organ donation to help many patients waiting for transplantation due to organ failure. This will not give the Right to Die to terminally-ill patients but the Right to Life to patients with organ failure.
- Refusing Care – Refusing medical treatment can also be regarded as passive euthanasia. For example – A blood cancer patient can refuse treatment or feed through the nasogastric tube.
- Caregivers burden – There is a huge burden on the caregiver in financial, emotional, mental, social, and physical domains. The majority of petitions for terminating the life of a person suffering from chronic illness have been filed by the caretaker and the family members. It is uncommon to hear that either the patient or the family members take poison to end this burden.
- Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996) SC946
In this case, the Supreme Court said that Article 21 which states Right to Life leaves out Right to Die. The constitutionality of Section 309 under IPC was upheld. The difference between Physical Assisted Suicide and Passive Euthanasia was pointed out in the English case Airdale Case. The English Common Law considered Euthanasia as a criminal act.
The court held that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are illegal in India; although the Supreme Court agreed to the concept of English Court yet introduced the right for a terminally-ill patient to die with dignity.
2. Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India & Ors. (2011)
In this case, the victim was suffering in a persistent vegetative state for more than 36 years. She was a nurse at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai and was assaulted by a man who immobilized her with a belt that stopped the oxygen supply, damaging her brain functions. The plea was filed for mercy killing but the court rejected it. However, the court recognized the concept of the living will. The Supreme Court legalized Passive Euthanasia as well as issued some guidelines and said that it would be applicable only in rarest of rare cases. The court further said that the right to die does come under the scope of Fundamental Rights and specifies that High Court should approve the request for Passive Euthanasia to make sure there is no minified intention of relatives and friends.
3.Common Cause ( A Regd. Society) v. Union of India (2018)
In this case, a writ petition was filed for recognition of the ‘living will’ of a person and a strong system for passive euthanasia. This case challenged the constitutionality of Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code. The concept of ‘living will’ was recognized by the court as well as the Right to Die with Dignity, the Right to Self-determination, and the Right to Autonomy was recognized as Fundamental Rights.
Euthanasia is a controversial topic. It has given rise to many debates for centuries over the legal implication. There is a need to enact a law to protect terminally ill patients and the medical practitioners who provide care to these patients. Also, poor people suffering from severe health issues can get free access. Euthanasia has many implications like the cost of the procedure, pressure from doctors, mental state of both patient and family members. The medical practitioner should also know the mental status of a person seeking euthanasia. The decision given by the apex court to legalize passive euthanasia is appreciated, however, active euthanasia has not been legalized still.
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