AN ANALYSIS ON EUTHANASIA IN INDIA

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

By Ms. KAVIYA NARAYANAN & Ms. KEERTHANA K

“Euthanasia…. is simply to be able to die with dignity at a moment when a life is devoid of it.”

The term euthanasia is derived from the Greek word which means” good death” (Eu- good)(Thanatos-death). Generally, euthanasia is described as the deliberate and intentionally killing of another person in order to relieve from the pain and suffering, (for ex: the person who is affected from serious disorder like coma, brain tumor or serious brain damage etc.,). It is also known as merciful act or mercy killing.


TYPES OF EUTHANASIA

Euthanasia may be classified into 3 types according to the consent of the person,

  • VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA - When the person or the patient is directly or voluntarily request to another person to be killed.

  • INVOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA- This type of euthanasia is done against the will of the patient, and it is considered as murder in many countries.

  • NON-VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA- When the patient is unavailable to give his consent (coma or brain tumor or serious damage in brain) and the third party made the decision on behalf of the patient.

And euthanasia may be classified into 2 types according to means to death.

  1. ACTIVE EUTHANASIA- It is also known as ‘Aggressive euthanasia’. It is a direct intentional act to cause death of another person.For ex: By giving lethal injection or by giving any higher dosage of certain drugs. It causes the sudden death to the patient who is in terminal illness. It is illegal in India and considered as crime under section 302 or 304 of Indian penal code. But some of the countries consider it as legal.

  2. PASSIVE EUTHANASIA – It is also known as ‘Non- Aggressive euthanasia’. It is also an intentional act to death of the person by not providing any supplementary things like avoiding food and water artificial feeding), withdrawing the artificial life support or not giving any proper medical support (like removing the heart- lung machine from a patient in coma). It is also called ‘slow poison method’ that causes death to the patient. It is legal in India. Passive euthanasia is divided into two types namely, voluntary euthanasia and non-voluntary euthanasia.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUICIDE AND EUTHANASIA

SUICIDE

  • It is a self- destruction act.

  • Suicide means trying to kill yourself and there is no involvement of any other person. If there is anyone’s involvement then it is considered as abetment of suicide.

  • The person who is in depression, love failure, financial problems, frustration, family problems etc., may decide to suicide (escape from problems).

  • Section 309 of IPC[i] says that attempt to suicide is punishable with simple imprisonment and the term may extent to 1 year or with fine. Section 306 of IPC says that abetment of suicide shall be considered as murder and shall be punished with imprisonment up to 10 years and also liable to pay fine.

  • Section 305 of IPC explains the person who instigate someone to commit suicide under the age of 18 years, idiot, intoxicated person shall be punished with death (or)imprisonment for life(or) imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years and liable to pay fine.

EUTHANASIA

  • It is not a self- destruction act.

  • In euthanasia, there is an involvement of another person that causes death of the patient. Here the consent of the person may or may be present.

  • The third party does a merciful act to the person who is in terminal illness in order to give a relieve from the pain and suffering.

  • Non- voluntary euthanasia is punishable and considered as murder and illegal in all the countries but voluntary euthanasia is legal in some countries.


CASE ANALYSIS:

Aruna Ramachandra Shanbag v. Union of India[ii]

This is the historic case which legalized passive euthanasia in India. This case was filed by Ms. Pinki Virani as the next friend of victim. She plead for the withdrawing of medical treatment and food to the victim, to free her from persistent suffering and to let her die peacefully.

Facts of the case- here the victim who was a staff nurse in KEM hospital was sexually assaulted by a sweeper in the hospital. He wrapped a dog chain around her neck and yanked her back with it. It was alleged that due the strangulation caused by twisting dog chain around her neck oxygen supply to the brain was stopped and her brain got damaged. She was in a persistent vegetative state and remained stable until her death which was nearly 42 years.


Directions and Guidelines:

The Supreme Court laid down certain guidelines for practicing passive euthanasia

1. A decision to discontinue life support of the patient should be taken by parents or spouse or close relatives in the absence of them decision can be taken by person acting as next friend. The decision should be made in the best interest of the patient.

2. Permission has to be obtained from the concerned High Court.

3. The High Court under Article 226 shall grant approval for withdrawal of life support to the incompetent patient. In such cases the high court ill act s ParensPertiae -a well-known principle of law which grants inherent power and authority to the court to protect the interest of persons who are unable to look after themselves.

Common Cause (A Regd. Society) v. Union of India[iii]

In this case petitioner prayed for declaration of right to die with dignity as a fundamental right within the fold of article 21 of constitution[iv]which guarantees right to live with dignity and to permit living wills – advanced directive.

The court summarized that right of a dying man to die with dignity when life is ebbing out, and in the case of a terminally ill patient or a person in PVS, when there is no hope for recovery , accelerating the process of death for reducing the period of suffering constitutes a right to live with dignity

The Supreme Court in this case permitted passive euthanasia by means of executing living wills/advance medical directives. The court laid down principles and procedures for execution of advance directives. After Aruna Ramachandra Shenbag case, the law commission of India made 241st report on passive euthanasia, but no law has been enacted.

From the moment of the birth the person is entitled with basic human rights and right to life, liberty and live with dignity. Right to life and liberty is enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution. Here the right to life includes all basic and fundamental rights. There is an inherent difference between right to die with dignity and right to die.Passive euthanasia exists so that a person can die with dignity. The person who suffers from terminal illness and in persistent vegetative state are totally dependent on others. When the patient has no hope for recovery it is better to accelerate the process of death by withdrawing the medical treatment/food. This relieve their persistent suffering and ensures right to die with dignity.Euthanasia could be lawful only by lawful legislation. Thus, stringent laws should be made with regard to euthanasia.


[i]The Indian Penal Code, 1860, No.45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 [ii]Aruna Ramachandra Shanbag v. Union of India ,A.I.R. 2011 S.C. 1290(India). [iii]Common Cause (A Regd. Society) v. Union of India, A.I.R. 2018 S.C. 1665(India). [iv] INDIAN CONST. ART.21.

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