Derived from the Greek word “Euthanatos”, euthanasia means mercy killing. It can be defined as the “painless killing of the person suffering from incurable diseases, painful diseases or is in an irreversible coma”.
In India, abetment of suicide and attempt to suicide are both criminal offences. In 1994, the constitutional validity of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code was challenged in the Supreme Court. They declared the section as unconstitutional under Article 21 which is the Right to Life.
In 1996, an interesting case of abetment of the commission of suicide landed in the Supreme Court. The accused were convicted in a trial court, with the conviction upheld by the High Court. Furthermore, the Supreme Court was appealed and contended that the ‘right to die’ was to be included in Article 21. An individual abetting the commission of suicide by another person is merely assisting in the enforcement of the fundamental right under Article 21; hence their punishment is a violation of the same. This made the Supreme Court reconsider its decision around the right to die. Post this, the matter was immediately referred to the Constitution Bench of the Indian Supreme Court where the Court held that the right to life under Article 21 excluded the right to die.
Forms of Euthanasia
1. Voluntary Euthanasia – The killing of a patient with their consent.
2. Non-Voluntary Euthanasia – The killing of a patient when they are unable to give consent. For example, children.
3. Involuntary Euthanasia – When a patient is killed against their will but was in a condition where they cannot talk or give consent. For example, a patient who has been in a coma for 30 years.
4. Physician-Assisted Suicide – When a doctor helps a patient in taking their own life. For example, medication X is kept alongside the patient’s bed and they voluntarily consume that it to end their life, is termed as physician-assisted suicide.
Types of Euthanasia
1.Active Euthanasia – The intentionally killing of an individual by direct use of a lethal weapon and involves direct intervention. For example, the patient must be in a terrible state of agony.
2.Passive Euthanasia – It involves withholding medical treatment without which a person must die.
3. A living will – It is a will in which a person states that if they do not recover after a certain period then they should be removed from life support.
-Giar Khan v. the State of Punjab
In this case, the court held that according to Article 21, there is no right for anyone to die.
-Aruna Shambang case v. Union of India
In this case, a nurse was sexually assaulted at the hospital and was nearly killed using a chain. Due to the lack of oxygen that reached her brain, she fell into a coma which she was in for 48 years. In this case, the court stated that only passive euthanasia was allowed in India. Moreover, they said that passive euthanasia could only be done by parents, guardians, spouses, close relatives, and close friends. If they are not present, then the individual closest to her during the treatment could do the same. The court finally allowed passive euthanasia in 2011.
-Common Cause V. Union of India 2018
This case has a bench of judges led by Ex-Chief Justice of India, Deepak Mishra. In this case, he said that the fundamental right to life and dignity also included the right to refuse treatment and die with dignity.
Guidelines given for a Living Will are as follows –
1 – Adults with a sane mind without coercion.
2 – Signed in front of a first-class judicial magistrate.
3 – The individual should be aware of the pain they will suffer upon the removal of life support.
4 – The person closest to the patient should be present. The hid name should be mentioned in the living will as it is only that individual who can give consent to remove life support.
If there is no living will present then–
Every family member and the hospital board members have a meeting. If everyone agrees then a written agreement is provided to the hospital. This written agreement then goes to the magistrate who forms his board to check whether consent is not given for someone’s personal gains. The board of the magistrate includes the chief district medical officer, the chairman of the hospital and three expert doctors who have up to 20 years of experience in dealing with critical cases. If the board approves then the consent goes to the Judicial Magistrate First Class and to his family members.
-Gair Khan V. Union of India 1996
The court held that according to the right to waiver nobody can waive their fundamental rights. Hence, the right to life is not taken and the right to die is not protected under any article.
Post this, the Aruna Shambagh case arrived for which the court only allowed passive euthanasia. Despite being banned in India, passive euthanasia is only allowed in certain special cases. Even though numerous patients ask for it, the court denies it.
In the context of health and medical care decisions, a person’s exercise of self-determination and autonomy involves the right to decide whether or to what extent they are willing to submit themselves to medical procedures and treatment. Choosing amongst available treatments is in consonance within their aspiration and values. Additionally, the court agrees that the right to dignified life also includes a dignified procedure of death.
In such cases, death with dignity is the last resort for families and patients to end their suffering and pain.
In conclusion, every individual should have a right to die with dignity. Some have diseases or illnesses that cannot be cured, hence, it is not just their suffering that ends but also that of their family and friends. They become a burden on them financially, emotionally, physically and mentally. Hence, laws against euthanasia should be reconsidered and practised in India.