Euthanasia- Can a Person be Denied Right to Die?

Article for Blog Post Writing Competition 2011 | by Shubhangi Gupta


June 7th, 20112:42 pm


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

I am certainly not ascribing to the defenders of Euthanasia or assisted dying any motive but the desire to spare people unnecessary suffering.”…Rowan Williams.

Also identifiable by the name “Mercy Killing”, Euthanasia connotes the act of deliberately helping someone in terminating his life or conceding to his request of bringing his life to a halt. The word “Euthanasia” has been derived from ancient Greek, meaning “Good death”. This act is done to aid those who are hopeless, suffering from massive amounts of untreatable pain and debilitating dementia.

The issue of Euthanasia has been a controversial one, since time immemorial. There are two kinds of Euthanasia, voluntary and non-voluntary. Voluntary Euthanasia is one in which the patient offers his consent, in a full-state of mind, to carry out his death, whereas, involuntary Euthanasia is one, in which the person is in an oblivious state and decision is taken on behalf of the sufferer.

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

The question of right to die for the first time took momentum in the case State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Shripathi Dubal, in which Bombay High court opined that ‘Right to life’ also encompasses ‘Right to die’ and Section 309 (Punishment for attempt to commit suicide by a person), Indian Penal Code, 1860 was struck down. However, the judgement was over ruled by Supreme Court in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, pronouncing that ‘Right to life’ does not incorporate ‘right to die’ or ‘Right to be killed’ in it and there is no basis to treat Section 309 of Indian Penal Code invalid.

In India, unlike Netherland, Mercy Killing is a highly debatable issue. In India, right to die is considered to be totally illegal. The reason behind this is that in India Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are contemplated as interchangeable terms. However, there is a stark difference between the two. Former is one in which dying becomes an imminent necessity and there is no silver lining in the life of that person. However, the latter is when a person puts an end to his life, out of despair and depression, not necessarily out of some imminent necessity.

Does that mean that both terms are entirely different in meaning? The answer is affirmative. However, in India the difference between the two is overlooked and euthanasia is often confused with physician assisted suicide. That is the reason in India because of which it has not been legalised yet. Everyone wants to die a painless death and if the injury is incurable and prolonged, then a person should be given right to put a full stop to his life.

However, this premise of mercy killing has left an ample room open for debate. Generally people take it to be assisted suicide, despite the fact, that suicide and mercy killing are two different concepts entirely. Supposedly, if a patient swallows an overdose of drugs that were provided by a doctor for the purpose of causing death, this is an example of assisted suicide. Euthanasia has two grounds- active and passive. Active euthanasia is one in which there is a direct intervention, such as prescription of lethal drug or injection. Generally physician-assisted suicide is termed to be as Active Euthanasia. Passive is one in which the person’s injury is incurable and can’t survive without the support of machine. He is allowed to die his “natural death” and is left to bear the endless pain of that incurable disease.

Effect of not Legalising Euthanasia – Some Indian cases in limelight

One of the most argumentative cases of Euthanasia in India is that of Aruna Shanbaug. For the last 37 years, this nurse has been in a vegetative state after a rape incident that left her with irreversible brain damage. Be it the case of Sarita Tyagi who is suffering from motor neurone disease and wanted to die. She and her husband petitioned the courts to give immunity from prosecution to her husband if he were to help her to kill herself.

So we see that Euthanasia is the compassionate way of ending the pain of the patient. Life is beautiful but it becomes crude and miserable, when at old age our most loveable son or daughter leaves us at Geriatric hospital for palliative care rather than being with us when we need them the most. Throwing a cursory glance in cases like: Kareem, 89-year-old or Ram Bharose, 90-year-old (Patients at Astha Hospital, Lucknow), one can figure out that these are the patients who are at the edge of their life facing physical, emotional, mental, social, and environmental problems which are an occlusion in their independence. They have been disowned by their family, under the pretext that they don’t have enough time to take care of them or they are too old to bring a plethora of problems in their life. What is the next option left with this people, except pleading for mercy killing.

With India still in a dilemma, Netherlands became the only country to legalise Euthanasia in 2002. The US State of Oregon also legalised euthanasia in 1997. Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” Act enabled patients to practice euthanasia by administering lethal injections themselves.

Article 21 of the Constitution states that every person has a right to live his life with human dignity, but if the living standard of a person falls below that dignity and his life becomes a bane or curse for him, he should be given the right to put an end to his unending sufferings. Moreover, we see that family members spent extravagant money on the patient’s illness, despite the fact that the disease is incurable. In that case, if there is no ray of silver lining, and the patient is falling a prey to profound pain; he should be permitted to plead for mercy killing. Spending that money on an incurable disease is frivolous; instead that money can be used on the illness of those people, where there are more chances of recovery.

Points To Be Taken Into Consideration, If Euthanasia Gets Legalised

(1)   It should be ensured that the consent of the patient was voluntary.

(2)   The consent should not have been obtained by coercion, undue influence or misrepresentation.

(3)   It should be ensured that the patient is in imminent pain, as a result of an incurable injury.

(4)   Only when the doctor and patient are well acquainted with the fact that the person can only survive on machines, throughout his life.

(5)   When the patient is confirmed that there is no alternative solution and there can be no silver lining in his life.

If the person falls under any of the five criteria’s enumerated above, then only he should be given a right to die. Then the person, who assisted him in mercy killing, should not be prosecuted. But it can be only possible, if Euthanasia gets legalised in India, which seems to be a dream come true.

Conclusion

If Article 21 includes “Right to life with human dignity”, it should also include “Right to die”. It should be kept in mind that right to live life with human dignity, can only be possible when a person has a healthy mind and body. If the person is a victim of incurable injuries and has fallen prey to lifetime pains and sufferings, he should be granted right to terminate his life. So Active Euthanasia is the need of the hour and should be legalised. Finally it can be said that:

Live life with passion and die with compassion.”

Article by:

Shubhangi Gupta

Student, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab, India

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

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