“Hey Doc, I am suffering too much, can end it by ending me?”

Article for Blog Post Writing Competition 2011 | by Raghav Joshi


June 1st, 20112:49 pm


A man, even if seriously sick or prevented in the exercise of its higher functions, is and will be always a man . He will never become a ‘vegetable’ or an ‘animal,’ the Pope said. “The intrinsic value and personal dignity of every human being does not change depending on their circumstances.”

Pope John Paul II, 2004

In the Classical Era (4th to 3rd century BC), the inhabitants of the island of Kea used to end their lives after gaining the consent of their co-citizens. Rather than growing older and ill, they preffered a mass exodus from life by drinking hemlock, in a festive atmosphere. The eagerness to end their lives in this way might stem from the fact that this fact was considered heroic.

Philosophers right from the period of Hippocrates, Socrates and Aristotle opposed euthanasia. Hippocrates in his Hippocratic oath, which is administered to modern day doctors before their enrollment said:

I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel

Introduction

“Right to life is an inalienable and inherent right of every human being.”

-Thomas Jefferson

Right to life and personal liberty is the most cherished and pivotal fundamental human rights around which other rights of the individual revolve and, therefore, the study assumes great significance.

MEANING AND CONCEPT OF ‘RIGHT TO LIFE’

‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.’ The right to life is undoubtedly the most fundamental of all rights. All other rights add quality to the life in question and depend on the pre-existence of life itself for their operation. As human rights can only attach to living beings, one might expect the right to life itself to be in some sense primary, since none of the other rights would have any value or utility without it. There would have been no Fundamental Rights worth mentioning if Article 21 had been interpreted in its original sense.

Euthanasia

“Death solves all problems…no man, no problem.”… Joseph Stalin.

“I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, not suggest any such counsel “ Hippocrates, Father of Modern Medicines (400 BC )

Euthanasia  refers to the practice of ending a life in a manner which relieves pain and suffering. According to the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, the precise definition of euthanasia is “a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering. Euthanasia is categorized in different ways, which include voluntary, non-voluntary, or involuntary and active or passive.

Article 21 and Indian Penal Code

Art. 21 states that - No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Life means something more than mere animal existence, this view of Supreme Court of USA in Munn v. Illunois[1], was accepted by constitutional bench of Supreme Court in Kharak Singh v. State of U.P.[2]

The question whether Article 21 includes right to die or not first came into consideration in the case State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Shripathi Dubal. It was held in this case by the Bombay High Court that ‘right to life’ also includes ‘right to die’ and Section 309 was struck down. The court clearly said in this case that right to die is not unnatural; it is just uncommon and abnormal. However in the case Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab the above cases were over ruled and it was held by the five judge bench of the Supreme Court that the “right to life” guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution does not include the “right to die”. The court clearly mentioned in this case that Article 21 only guarantees right to life and personal liberty and in no case can the right to die be included in it.

In India, Right to die and euthanasia is absolutely illegal. If a doctor tries to kill a patient, the case will surely fall under Section 300 of Indian Penal Code, 1860.

The various debates are that whether suicide and euthanasia are same or not, whether right to die can be inferred as a valid interpretation of Article 21 and whether euthanasia can be legalized in India?

Suicide and Euthanasia are two totally different ways of ending life. While the former is committed on the whims and fancies of the individual, the latter states a reasonable ground for one’s decision to rise above the everyday fight for survival.

Suicide is very much a distinct concept from euthanasia. In India there is no specific law concerning euthanasia, though it is much needed. The need of the same arises when a person is terminally ill and not capable of cure. The sufferings of an ill person need not be prolonged by forcefully keeping him alive with all the pain and sufferings. That is a violation of article 21 of the constitution of India which provides a right to dignified life.

Article 21 of the constitution speaks of right to live with human dignity. The life of a person owned by him and he had should be given right to die in certain circumstances.

In India Euthanasia cannot be legalized because Art. 21 states that – No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law ,and so far there is no law in India which allows euthanasia. Right to die is inherently inconsistent with the right to live even in cases where the patient is terminally ill. The right to die with dignity is not to be confused or equated with the right to die unnaturally curtailing the natural span of life.[3]Though people who are in support of euthanasia keep on debating that euthanasia means ending a life which is not worth living. But the problem lies that how should one decide whether the life is anymore worth living or not. Regarding this debate from legal point of view, Article 21 clearly provides for living with dignity. A person has a right to live a life with at least minimum dignity and if that standard is falling below that minimum level then a person should be given a right to end his life. Supporters of euthanasia also point out to the fact that as passive euthanasia has been allowed, similarly active euthanasia must also be allowed. A patient will wish to end his life only in cases of excessive agony and would prefer to die a painless death rather than living a miserable life with that agony and suffering.

An important point on which the supporters of euthanasia emphasize is that a lot of medical facilities which amount a lot are being spent on these patients which are in any case going to die.

Thus, they argue that rather than spending those on such patients, it will be much better to use such facilities for those who have even fair chances of recovery. Thus, again the question lies that whom do we want to save using these medical facilities those who are in any case going to die today or tomorrow or those who have fair chances of recovery. A point which is often raised against the supporters of euthanasia is that if such right will be granted to the terminally patients then there will be chances of abuse of it.

Some suggested guidelines for applying euthanasia

Measures Taken Before Legalizing Euthanasia in India:-

  1. Be convinced that the request was voluntary, well considered and lasting.
  2. Be convinced that the patient was facing unremitting and unbearable suffering.
  3. Have informed the patient about his situation and prospectus.
  4. Have reached the firm conclusion with the patient that their was no reasonable alternative solution.
  5. Have consulted at least one other independent physician. Who has examined the patient and formed a judgment about the patient stated above.
  6. Terminate life in a medically appropriate fashion.

Conclusion

The term euthanasia is too ambiguous. This has been a topic for debate since a long time i.e. whether euthanasia should be allowed or not. In Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, the apex court overruled the decisions in  P. Rathinam / Naghbhusan Patnaik v. Union of India. They held that ‘right to life’ does not include ‘right to die’. Extinction of life is not included in protection of life.

Even the Indian Medical Council recognizes the act of euthanasia as unethical. We can also conclude that the most important point that the opponents raised were that it will lead to its misuse by the doctors and moreover if the doctors will be given discretion to practice voluntary euthanasia then surely it will gradually lead to asking for involuntary or non-voluntary euthanasia which will be shear misuse.


[1] 94 US 113

[2] AIR 1963 SC 1295

[3] 1988 Crl. L.J. 549

 

Article by-

Raghav Joshi,

Student, College of Legal Studies, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradoon.

Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011

 

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