Euthanasia- Right to Die With Dignity: Shipra Gupta

EUTHANASIA: ‘RIGHT TO DIE WITH DIGNITY’

Author: Shirpa Gupta

BANASTHALI VIDHYAPITH

ISSN: 2582-3655

“Death with dignity is better than life with pain”

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this paper is to review all the aspects of the most crucial topic that is ‘Euthanasia’. The paper reveals the worth of life, that life without having dignity and quality is worthless. The paper uses different judgments, facts, case laws, dates, arguments, issues to analyse the effectiveness of legalizing the passive euthanasia in India.  The cases and authorities were sited to clarify the facts and arguments mentioned in respect to euthanasia. In 2011, the Supreme Court of India gave a landmark judgment in the case of Aruna Shahnbaug by legalising the passive euthanasia. And in 2018, the Supreme Court of India declared ‘Right to die with dignity’ as a Fundamental Right. The case of Aruna Shahnbaug V. Union of India is thoroughly discussed in this paper along with its all aspects.

This paper concludes by discussing the negative and positive sides of euthanasia and also demands from the Parliament of India to make proper laws to protect it from misuse.

INTRODUCTION

Euthanasia is a  Greek word that means good death.  Euthanasia is also known as ‘Mercy Killing’, it is defined as the terminating the life of a person who is suffering from a painful incurable illness.  This is the act of ending the life of an ill person who is suffering badly from the past many years to give his soul the ultimate peace from all the deadly and incurable diseases.

According to the Oxford Dictionary- Euthanasia is the painless killing of a person who is in an irreversible coma. As many a time, we have seen patients who are bedridden and suffering from an incurable disease and the pain they bear is worst, At that time we say that God should take his life rather give him a lot of sufferings. So, euthanasia is a painless ending of the life of a person who is suffering from a deadly incurable disease,  but this can be done by consent of the patient.  If the patient is in a vegetative state for a long time and doctors declared that their illness is incurable then the patient’s family members can give their consent to end his life.

Before 2011, euthanasia was illegal in India. In 2011, the Supreme Court of India legalized euthanasia.  The Supreme Court this judgment on the writ petition of the Aruna Shahnbaugh and legalize passive euthanasia in India. 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In ancient time euthanasia was practiced by many peoples in India. There were many customs in India related to voluntary taking own’s life. As many of the sadhus, sant and mahatmas who voluntary end their life by practicing samadhis they believe that after enjoying all the comforts of life in the old age they should involve themselves in samadhis that is worshipping the god by giving up all the comforts including food, water and everything which is essential to live. Similarly, during the time of Mahabharata all five Pandvas ( Bhim, Yudhistir, Arjun, Nakul, Sahdev) along with their wife Draupadi after voluntarily gave up their kingdom and moved to snowy mountains in order to voluntary gave up their lives. In Jainism also people after enjoying all the benefits of life when they get old they took ‘ Santhara’ in which they voluntarily give up all the essential things which are helping them to live such as food, water etc.

But, euthanasia is not voluntarily giving up life. It is the act of ending the life of an ill person who is suffering from unbearable pain which is incurable in nature. But there are many concepts in India related to voluntarily causing death and euthanasia. It is said that human life is a very precious gift given by God to us and no one has the right to take away life before the natural death comes.  And the beliefs related to euthanasia are that no one has the right to end the life of any person who is suffering from incurable pain as these are the karmas due to which people suffer incurable pain or unbearable pain in the last few times of their life.

Before 2011, the scenario of euthanasia was completely confusing in India. According to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, all citizens have a fundamental right to live but here a critical question arises that whether the citizens of India have the right to die as a fundamental right as we have right to life. There was much confusion came in this path as all the practitioners, judges and courts have different opinions for the right to die as we can see in many cases :

In a popular case, Bombay High Court held that according to Article 21 every citizen of India has ‘Right to life’ as fundamental right so it is implied that Article 21 includes ‘Right to die’ too. [1] In another case the Andhra Pradesh High Court held that it is not correct that if Article 21 provides right to life that means it provides right to die too.[2] In case P. RATHAINAM’S V. UNION OF INDIA [3], the Supreme Court held that the Right to life includes ‘Right not to live’ that is right to die or to terminate one’s life. But again in a case, the Supreme Court of India overruled the case of P. Rathainam’s case and held that Article 21 only includes the Right to life as a fundamental right and does not include the right to die. [4]

There are many patients who are suffering badly from diseases their pain is of very intense they choose to die rather suffer the hellish pain. So, there should be a law that can provide the right to die to the patients to give the peace to their souls by reducing all the pains.

TYPES OF EUTHANASIA

Euthanasia refers to provide death to a person who is suffering from an incurable disease. In the most dreadful situations when the person is in unbearable pain he can voluntarily demand to end up their life to get rid of the pain. But what happens in the case where the patient is not in the state to give consent to end up their life. There are various types of euthanasia which can clear all the situations:

  1. VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA

Voluntary euthanasia is an act that is practiced when the patient voluntarily demands to give up his life. There are many patients who are suffering from deadly diseases that are painful and unbearable in nature. So,  to get rid of that unbearable pain the patient has the right to voluntarily give up their life. It can be done by various methods such as:

  • Giving up the food and water which is essential to live.
  • Giving up all the medical treatments which are helping them to live.
  • By lethal doses
  • NON – VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA

In non-voluntary euthanasia, the patient doesn’t have enough senses to give their consent to end up their life. So, the close family members and close friends can decide whether to end the patient’s life or not. 

If a patient is suffering from an incurable disease or in a vegetative state and for whom giving any indication of conduct is impossible in that case their family decides to end up their life or not. The person who are just minors or mentally ill or the person in vegetative state who can’t give consent so on behalf of these patients their family has right to decide to end up their life and help their soul to get rid of all the pains and rest in peace.

  • IN- VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA

In in-voluntary euthanasia, the authority gives the order to take life of a person or a group of a person which is similar to murder. In this the victim is able to give consent and don’t want to end their life. But their life ends without their will or consent. As waa happen in World War Second the leader of Nazizs “ Hitler” forcefully put peoples into the gas chambers.

Later on euthanasia is divided into two types: Active euthanasia and Passive euthanasia

  • ACTIVE EUTHANASIA

Active euthanasia is practiced when the patient voluntarily demands to give up their lives to get rid of all the incurable pains and suffering. In active euthanasia, doctors add substances into the body of the patients to end up their life. Substances include lethal doses or anti-oxygen tablets which help to end up the life of a patient. There are many medicines and substances available which can end the patient’s life.

But the active euthanasia is considered as a crime as the patient can’t take his own life he needs someone to end up his life. In most of the countries euthanasia is considered as a crime and in India whoever practices active euthanasia will be punished under section 302 and section 304 of the Indian Penal Code.

  • PASSIVE EUTHANASIA

Passive euthanasia is practiced when the patient is ill for many years and there were no chance to recovery his suffering so, in this case, if the patient voluntarily demands or their family members give their consent to end the life of the patient, then the doctors practice passive euthanasia. In passive euthanasia, doctors removed all the life-supporting devices or the substances which help the patients to live. In passive euthanasia, doctors don’t actively take the life of a patient but they restrict themselves to do treatment that can keep the patient alive. Doctors can stop performing operations which helps the patient to stay alive. They can suggest a patient stop taking the medicines. Doctors can reduce the quantity of artificial oxygen which is keeping the patient alive. They also can terminate the food pipes to help the patients to give up their life.

Passive euthanasia was legalized in India in the year 2011. Before that euthanasia was illegal in India and if any person was caught practicing euthanasia was punishable under Indian Penal Code. In 2011, the Supreme Court of India announced the final judgment in the case of Aruna Shahnbaug v. Union Of India and legalize the passive euthanasia in India.  

ARUNA SHAHNBAUGH V. UNION OF INDIA ( 2011 SCC 1290)

FACTS OF THE CASE

On 17th November 1973, Aruna Shahnbaugh a 24-year-old girl who was a nurse in King Edward Memorial Hospital ( KEM) was assaulted and sodomized by a KEM hospital’s ward boy ( Sohanlal Bhartha Valmiki) in the changing room which was present in the basement of the KEM hospital.  Sohanlal wrapped her neck by a dog’s chain which consequences her to brain dead due to lack of oxygen. After all this Aruna became unconscious and that time Sohanlal Valmiki robbed her ring and earrings and ran away. 

On the morning of 18th November 1973, an employee of KEM hospital found Aruna Shahnbaugh in the unconscious state covered with blood. When the team of doctors checked her they informed that she went into the vegetative state. In 1980 , Sohanlal was punished with rigours imprisonment for 7 years in the committing the offence of murder and robbery the court didn’t impose charges on him for sodomy as there was no proper evidence to prove the offence sodomy. Later on the punishment of Sohanlal reduced to 6 years as before judgment he was already kept into imprisonment for 1 year during the trials.

WRIT PETITION FILED BY PINKY VIRANI

In 2011, Pinky Virani who was a social activist, journalist, and writer apply a writ petition in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.  In the petition, she requested the court to remove all the support systems and stop giving food to her so that she can get rid of all the pains and provide her soul the ultimate peace.

In the petition, Pinky Virani informed about the actual situation of Aruna to the Supreme Court she informed that Aruna is in a vegetative state from the past 42 years. She is lying on a bed from the past 42 years as a skeleton She can’t hear or speak anything. Doctors fed her mashed food and she is doing all the excretory process on the bed. Pinky Virani said that all the teeth of Aruna are decayed which gives her intense pain. So, after informing all the conditions of Aruna, Pinky requested the court to provide permission for euthanasia to Aruna and helped her soul to rest in peace from all the sufferings.

In 2011, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition of Pinky Virani on the grounds of :

  • Supreme Court refuses Pinky Virani to considered as ‘next friend’ of Aruna Shahnbaugh.
  • Hospital staff also shows sympathy towards Aruna not to kill her by euthanasia.

After dismissing the petition Supreme Court-appointed three doctors to observe Aruna and submit her actual report in the court. When the doctors submitted reports, and in reports, it was held that her brain was not completely dead she can respond on some expressions.

In 2011, the Supreme Court legalise the passive euthanasia but with a condition that it is only subject to High Court approved that means wen High Court approves it then only a person can get permission for passive euthanasia.

Passive euthanasia is an active practice by doctors to a person who is ill for many years and his condition is incurable. There are various methods of Pasive euthanasia such as :

  • Removing the life-supporting systems
  • Removing the food pipes and stop feeding them
  • Stop providing them essential medicines that are keeping them alive.

In 2015, Aruna Shahnbaugh died by the attack of pneumonia and finally, in 2015, her soul gets peace from all the pains.

COMMON CAUSE V. UNION OF INDIA

Again in 2018, a case was registered in the Supreme Court of India with the similar issue of Aruna Shahnbaugh’s case . On 25th February 2018, a bench of 3 judges including the former  Chief Justice Deepak Mishra allows two more conditions in respect of the euthanasia:

  • If there is an adult person who is seriously ill for many years and able to give his consent about his living will.
  • The Supreme Court of India declared the Right to die with dignity as a fundamental right.

The Supreme Court held that any person who is in a vegetative state or suffering from a terminal illness that is incurable in nature has the right to give up their life with dignity and respect. In this patients do not have to get its legislation by state, they are free to use their fundamental right and end up their painful life with dignity. The Supreme Court of India held that Parliament should make a proper law on the euthanasia.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SUICIDE AND EUTHANASIA

The two words ‘Euthanasia’ and ‘Suicide’ seem very similar but they are totally different from each other. Suicide is voluntarily taking own’s life for many reasons. When a person voluntarily ends up their lives due to various reasons such as failures, problems in love life,  problems in married life, loss in business, depression, etc by electric shocks, consuming poisonous things, or hanging.

In suicide, the person takes his own life without the help of any other person. In India suicide is considered as an offence and punishable under section 309 ( attempt to suicide) of Indian Penal Code, 1860. In India whoever attempts to commit suicide shall be punished with one year of imprisonment or fine or both. On the other hand, euthanasia is an act of ending the life of a patient who is suffering from a coma or any incurable illness by the consent of the patient or by the consent of their family members. Euthanasia is an act of ending the life of a patient due to mercy and hence euthanasia is also known as ‘Mercy Killing’.

Euthanasia can be practiced by various methods such as:

  • Stop feeding the patient.
  • Terminating all the life-supporting systems
  • Reducing the quantity of artificial oxygen given to the patient
  • Stop giving essential medicines to the patients
  • Stop performing all the life-saving operations.

In euthanasia, the person needs another person to end up their life. The Supreme Court of India legalized passive euthanasia in 2011. In a case, the High Court of Bombay held that there is a difference between suicide and euthanasia. As suicide is an act of ending or terminate their own life without taking help from another person. On the other hand, euthanasia is an act of mercifully ending the life of a patient who is suffering from a coma or terminally ill disease.[5]

In another case, Bombay High Court held that suicide is terminating one’s life without the help of any other human being and mercy killing is ending the life of a patient mercifully with the help of other human beings. [6]

In India section 309 of the Indian Penal Code was held decriminalize in the year 2014 by the Supreme Court of India. In 2018 the Supreme Court of India declared the ‘Right to die with dignity’ as a Fundamental Right.  Supreme Court of India also suggested the Parliament of India passed a law related to euthanasia in India.

CONCLUSION

Euthanasia is an emotion towards the life of an individual. It gives a new concept and definition of life, that life should be full of dignity, quality, and status. As life without dignity and quality is similar to death. Living with extreme pains and without senses lying on the bed like a lifeless skeleton from many decades on life is worthless.

By legalizing euthanasia the Indian Judiciary System established a new side of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court of India by declaring ‘ Right to die with dignity’ as a Fundamental Right creates a history and launched the new aspect of law. Euthanasia or Mercy Killing is a good act to free up the soul of a person trapped in extremely unbearable and incurable pain.  According to Hindu Shastra’s, it is also known as ‘Atma Mukti’

But just like every coin has two sides euthanasia also has two sides: good and bad. Euthanasia can be misused in many ways as in this 21st century people don’t have emotions in relation. So, people can misuse it by giving their consent in order to grab the property of their close ones. As if a man who is in a vegetative state from some time and his son who is very greedy for his father’s property can give his consent on behalf of his father to end up his father’s life to grab all the money and property of his father.

As for human beings, doctors are the god as they save their life. We trust doctors a lot and give our close one’s precious life in their hands. But there are many greedy doctors who in order to collect a good amount of money from the patient’s family don’t tell the actual position of the patient whether the patient’s suffering is curable or incurable. Because the doctors think that if they inform that the patient’s suffering is incurable then there are chances that family members of the patient will demand euthanasia and due to that they will unable to collect a good amount of money from them. So, there is a huge necessity for proper law regarding euthanasia. The Parliament of India should pass the law related to euthanasia as soon as possible.

In the end, it is clearly said that the life of a person is worthless in which he is suffering from an incurable disease and in which he is suffering every moment from the pain more than death. In such a situation euthanasia is the only solution. The government of India and people should respect the decision of Hon’ble Supreme Court of legalizing the passive euthanasia. And the Parliament of India should pass an appropriate law related to euthanasia so that it can not be misused.


[1] Case : MS Dubal V. State of Maharashtra ( 1987 Cri.L.J 743 ( Bomb) )

[2] Case: Chenna Jagadeeswar V. State of A.P

[3] Case: P. Rathainam V. Union of India ( 1994 SCC 394 )

[4] Case : Gian Kaur V. State of Punjab ( 1996 AIR 946 , 1996 SCC 648 )

[5] Case: Maruti Shripati Dubal V. State of Maharashtra ( 1987 Cri.L.J 743 ( Bomb) )

[6] Case : Naresh Marotrao Sakhre V. Union of India ( 1995 Cri.L.J 95 (Bom) )

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