Author:- Divya Maini
Every human being is desirous to live and enjoy the fruits of his life till he dies. But sometimes a human being is desirous to end his life by use of unnatural means. When a person ends his life on his own, we call it “suicide” but to end life of a person by others though on the request of the deceased it is called “euthanasia”. People who tend to end their life either have incurable illness or who have become incapacitated and don’t want to go through the rest of their life suffering. The right to choose to live or die should be given to individuals of sound mind as well as severely handicapped or incurably ill individuals.
The term “Euthanasia” was derived from two ancient Greek words: Eu means “Good” and Thantos means “Death”, so it means good death. Euthanasia is defined as an intentional killing through any act or omission, of a person whose life is felt not to be worth living. It is also known as “Mercy killing” which is an act where the individual is in an incurable condition or has no chances of survival as he is suffering from painful life, ends his life in a painless manner. It is a painless and gentle death. The basic intention behind euthanasia is to ensure a less painful death to a person who is in any case going to die after a long period of suffering and the person can live as well as die with dignity. So, basically Euthanasia is a practice of mercifully ending of a person’s life to release him/her from an incurable disease, intolerable suffering, misery and pain of the life which is an easy death.
In modern context. Euthanasia is limited to killing of patients by doctors at the request of the patient to free him/her from excruciating pain or from incurable illness.
TYPES OF EUTHANASIA
Euthanasia is classified as follows on the basis of means of death and consent: –
On the basis of means of death:
- Active Euthanasia
It is also known as Positive or Aggressive Euthanasia. It refers to intentionally causing death of a person to end useless life and a meaningless existence. It is quicker means of causing death but it is illegal. For example, when a doctor gives a lethal injection.
- Passive Euthanasia
It is also known as Negative or Non-Aggressive Euthanasia. It refers to intentionally causing death of a person by not providing essential and necessary care or food and water. It is a much slower and uncomfortable means of causing death than active euthanasia but it is legal. For example, life of a patient is discontinued when the doctor removes the artificial support system.
On the basis of consent:
It refers to ending a person’s life with his/her own consent or permission. For example, when doctor ends patient’s life with the patient’s consent.
It refers to ending a person’s life who doesn’t wish to die.
It refers to ending a person’s life without his/her consent. For example, when the patient cannot communicate, being in coma he is killed without his consent.
VARIOUS METHODS USED FOR EUTHANASIA
- Lethal Injection
Administering injection of a lethal dose of a drug.
It refers to deprivation of oxygen that can result in death of a person. Carbon monoxide is the gas which is mostly used. Also, gases like sarin and tabun are used in small amounts to cause death.
SUICIDE AND EUTHANASIA: THE DIFFERENCE
Suicide and Euthanasia are not the same. There is a conceptual distinction between suicide and euthanasia.
- According to Oxford dictionary, “Suicide” means the act of killing yourself deliberately. It is an act of intentionally killing yourself due to various reasons such as depression, frustration in love, failure in getting a good job or in examinations.
- On the other hand, “Euthanasia” means intentionally killing a person to him/her from misery, pain and incurable condition. According to the Indian Evidence Act, the person who ends other person’s life shall not liable for any offence. The Latin phrase “Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea” states that the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty. In Indian law, this is a necessary element of many crimes. The intention or the guilty mind determines the criminal liability of the accused. Considering Euthanasia in relation to this Latin phrase, we can conclude that since the victim has given his consent to end his own life, so the accused shall not be criminally liable.
In Maruti Shripati Dubal vs. State of Maharashtra, Bombay High Court has attempted to make a distinction between Suicide and Euthanasia or Mercy killing. The court stated that “Suicide” by its very nature is an act of self-killing or termination of one’s own life by one’s act without assistance from others. And “Euthanasia” means the intervention of human agency to end the life. Mercy killing cannot be considered similar to Suicide. Mercy killing is nothing but homicide, whatever is the circumstances in which it is committed.
There is also a difference between Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.
- “Assisted Suicide” is an act which intentionally helps the other person to commit suicide. For example, when a doctor helps a patient to kill himself by providing a lethal injection. So, the person has a complete control over himself during this process while the other person just helps by providing the means.
- “Euthanasia” is act of mercifully ending a person’s life in order to prevent him from an incurable illness or life long suffering and pain.
LEGAL JOURNEY OF EUTHANASIA IN INDIA TILL DATE
- In Gian Kaur vs. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court held that Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia are not lawful in our country. However, the court also referred to the principle laid down by the House of Lords in Airdale’s case, where the House of Lords accepted that withdrawal of artificial support system would be lawful because such withdrawal of support system would only allow the patient who is beyond recovery to die a normal death, where there is no longer any duty to prolong life.
- In Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug’s case, the Supreme Court has allowed passive euthanasia in India.
In this case a petition was filed for seeking permission for euthanasia for Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug as she was in a Persistent Vegetative State and virtually dead person. She was in no state of awareness and her brain was also virtually dead.
The Supreme Court then established a medical committee for examining the patient that is Aruna.
- Initially, the Chief Justice of the competent High Court should constitute a bench of at least 2 judges who shall decide to grant approval or not.
- The bench shall also seek the opinion of the medical committee of 3 reputed doctors that preferably are:
1) A Neurologist
2) A Psychiatrist
3) A Physician
- nominated by the bench after consultation with the medical authorities.
- The medical committee shall carefully examine the patient and consult the record of the patient as well as taking the views of the hospital staff.
- The committee shall submit the report to the bench.
- After hearing the state and the close relatives of the patients and in their absence his/her next friend, the bench shall give its verdict.
The Supreme Court dismissed the petition filed for Aruna Shanbaug and observed that Passive Euthanasia is legally valid under certain exceptional circumstances but Active Euthanasia is not permitted under law and is illegal.
Also, the Court laid down certain guidelines which will continue to be law until the parliament makes a law for the same.
These guidelines are as follows: –
- The decision to withdraw or remove the artificial support system shall be taken either by the parents or the spouse or other close relatives. In absence of such people, the decision will be taken by a person or body of persons acting as next friend and also by the doctors treating the patient. However, this particular decision should be in the best interest of the patient.
- Such decision of discontinuing the support system shall be first approved by the High Court as laid down in Airdale’s case because there can be some possibility of mischief by such people for inheriting the property of the patient.
Under which provision of the law, can the court grant approval for discontinuing the artificial support system to an incompetent person?
- Under Article 226 of the Constitution, High Court is entitled to issue writs, directions or orders. So, the High Court can grant approval for discontinuing the support system under Article 226.
- In Common Cause vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court on 9th March 2018 pronounced a landmark verdict by giving legal recognition to passive euthanasia and allowed the execution of a living will. The living will be a document executed by a patient who is of sound mind and is capable of knowing the consequences. This case is also known as passive euthanasia case, euthanasia case of living will case.
The Court concluded it is inhumane to force a person to live with such an unbearable condition and he should have a right to decide whether medical treatment should be given or not. It was held that “Right to die” is a part of Article 21 and a person has a right to live with dignity until his death. The court also introduced certain guidelines which are to be followed when performing Euthanasia and a procedure to be followed by the patients when executing a living will.
Life is a different concept and death is contrary to ethics and values. Life is a gift of God and one should take all possible steps to save it. But now, people’s thinking has changed and they have started accepting that life is something which includes both enjoying life and living with dignity till death. So far as the legal position of Euthanasia in India is concerned, in 1996, Euthanasia was not lawful in India, whereas looking into the principles of Airdale’s case, 1993, it was seen that withdrawal of the artificial support system would be lawful. Later, in 2011, Passive Euthanasia was made legal under exceptional cases and Active Euthanasia to be illegal. Also, while performing Euthanasia and executing a living will, certain guidelines and procedure needs to be followed.
Finally, in Common Cause vs Union of India’s case also known as the Passive Euthanasia case, it was ruled out that the “Right to die” is a part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and includes both right to life and the right to die with dignity. Thus, the Indian Judiciary has considered Passive Euthanasia legal and constitutionally valid whereas Active Euthanasia illegal. Yet there are some people who think that the Right to die should not be included under Article 21 as it is against their religions, ethics, morals and societal values.
 Krishanu Das, Euthanasia in India, Legal Services India (May 12, 2021, 10:30 AM), http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/787/Euthanasia-in-India.html.
 Oxford University Press, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (6th ed. 2000).
 Indian Evidence Act, 1872, s 84, No. 1, Acts of Parliament, 1872 (India).
 Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra, (1987) Cri. L. J 743 (Bomb).
 Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, 1996 (2) SCC 648: AIR 1996 (SC) 946
 Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, 2011(3) SCALE 298
 Airdale NHS Trust v. Bland, 1993(1) All ER 821(HL)
 INDIA CONST. art. 226, cl. 1.
 Common Cause v. Union of India, (2018) 5 (S.C.C.) 1
 INDIA CONST. art. 21