Euthanasia is the deliberate act of putting an end to a patient’s life for the purpose of ending the patient’s suffering. Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) is the death of a patient as a direct consequence of ‘help’ by a doctor. Whatever the intentions claimed for euthanasia or PAS, this is nothing less than killing a patient/Human Being.
The constitution of India gives the right to life under Article 21. The Right to Die was demanded under this very Article by pleading that Right to Life also Includes Right to die. This question came for consideration for first time before the High Court of Bombay in State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubal. In this case the Bombay High Court held that the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 includes right to die, and the hon’ble High Court struck down section 309 IPC which provides punishment for attempt to commit suicide by a person as unconstitutional. In P Rathinam v. Union of India a Division Bench of the Supreme Court supporting the decision of the High Court of Bombay in. Maruti Sripati Dubal case held that under Article 21 right to life also include right to die and laid down that section 309 of Indian Penal Court which deals with ‘ attempt to commit suicide is a penal offence’ unconstitutional.
This issue was again raised before the court in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab. In this case a five judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court overruled the P. Ratinam’s case and held that “Right to Life” under Article 21 of the Constitution does not include “Right to die” or “Right to be killed” and there is no ground to hold that the section 309, IPC is constitutionally invalid. To true meaning of the word ‘life’ in Article 21 means life with human dignity. Any aspect of life which makes life dignified may be include in it but not that which extinguishes it. The ‘Right to Die’ if any, is inherently inconsistent with the “Right to Life” as is “death” with “Life”
Should Euthenasia be Legalised???
- The ‘justification’ of voluntary euthanasia involves rejection of a tenet fundamental to a just framework of laws in society
- To legalize assistance in suicide is also inconsistent with the same fundamental tenet of a just legal system
- If voluntary euthanasia is legalized then the most compelling reason for opposing the legalization of non-voluntary euthanasia has been abandoned
- Legalization of voluntary euthanasia would also encourage the practice of non-voluntary euthanasia without benefit of legalization
Voluntary euthanasia is the killing of a patient at his or her request in the belief that death would be a benefit to the patient and that the killing is for that reason justified. It would be contrary to any legal system which purports to protect and enforce a just social order to legalize killing which rests for its justification on the belief that certain lives lack worth. Because it is of critical importance to every state to maintain a body of laws consistent with respect for the dignity and worth of every human being.
The decriminalization of suicide (and attempted suicide, therefore) makes sense if we contemplate the plight of people having to face criminal proceedings after failed suicide attempts. Decriminalization motivated by the desire to ease the plight of such people does not, however, imply that the law takes a neutral view of the choice to carry out suicide
Many of those who support the legalization of voluntary euthanasia are opposed to the legalization of non-voluntary euthanasia. In fact the most active and clear-sighted advocates of the legalization of voluntary euthanasia are also advocates of the legalization of non-voluntary euthanasia. They promote the view that many human beings lack the ‘moral standing’ (what is here called ‘basic dignity’) in virtue of which they enjoy basic human rights; so they cannot be wronged even if the motive for killing them is merely the convenience of those human beings who do have ‘moral standing’
This would happen in two ways:
- firstly, it has proved to be the case that those who begin by saying they wish to confine the practice of euthanasia to voluntary euthanasia come to think that, if that is allowed, no good reason remains for disallowing non-voluntary euthanasia, so they begin to plan for the systematic practice of non-voluntary euthanasia.
- secondly, because the criteria for delimiting the practice of euthanasia to killing at the request of the patient prove to be irremediably imprecise
The practice of medicine cannot flourish unless doctors are so disposed that they inspire trust in patients many of whom are extremely vulnerable. Doctors will not inspire trust unless patients are confident that doctors are for no reasons disposed to kill them; have no inclination to ask whether a patient is worth caring for or treating, rather than asking what care or treatment might benefit the patient.
The proper expression of compassion is care motivated by a more or less strong sense of sympathy with the affliction of the person suffering. But one cannot care for people by killing them.
In most of the western countries, the various restrictions on social life and the opposition of religious leaders has lead to the delaying of progress although around 50% of the general public, via electoral votes, are in favour of a reform that would give them an eventual death with dignity. on the contrary around 70-80% support for law reform.the question that arises is that as to who among the people can defy their medical doctors. its is hoped that with a majority of doctors & nurses on our side, raising their voices would lead to the success of our future law reform. for that we need to bring more of the healing professions and their clients around to our way of thinking. a change in the wave of thinking with regard to individual choice in dying is needed. Here are suggested some of the ways to achieve this:
1. At the very outset, we may assist the dying people through various measures such as giving them proper advice, skilled counseling and supervision of the justifiable suicide of a person who is dying and has done all that he could.
2. In order to eliminate the taboos and fears of abuse that some people have, we must make a thorough investigation with regard to the writings on the subject of euthanasia or assisted suicide. Careful and compassionate research would help the news media to report ‘right-to-die’ matters in a straightforward way and not wait for scandalous events which they would love to write on.
3. We need a few ordinary physicians in different countries to become involved in criminal proceedings. if the politicians fail to achieve our goals, then the courts should come into the picture. But yet again one cannot go to the courts without a defendant willing to take the heat and strain of a high-profile trial. Ultimately we need a few doctors who will stand up and say: “My patient was suffering unbearably as he was dying. My patient was wise. I helped a death on request. I will fight in the courts for my duty to help a patient.”
Vineet Kothari and Shreshtha Gupta
Fourth year students, Department of Law,
University Of Calcutta, Kolkata