Right from the time when an embryo is formed our Indian constitution provides basic fundamental rights to each and every citizen. Some of these fundamental rights are for everyone including the non-citizens but some exclusively for the Indian citizens. Article 21 is one such fundamental right which is available to both citizens as well as non-citizens. Article 21 says that everyone is entitled ‘Right to life’. Right to life means that everyone has a basic right to live a dignified life. This right to life also includes the right to die with dignity but this right to die with dignity means the right to die voluntarily and with proper respect and not by the mistake or on the wishes of someone else. This right to die with dignity should not be read same as right to die an unnatural death and reducing the life span of the person. This right to die with dignity is termed as Euthanasia.
The word euthanasia is derived from Greek world ‘eu’ which means good and ‘thantos’ which means death so, indirectly euthanasia means ending the life of a person for the benefit of that person. Euthanasia is the act of ending the life span of a person who is suffering from an incurable disease or is in a condition which is full of suffering and misery and which is beyond repair, through suspension of medical treatments or injections, in order to free the person from such intolerable pain and suffering, act of ending the life of that individual text place. This process is known as euthanasia or mercy killing which means taking the life of a person intentionally in a painless manner and which sets the individual free of the end of an irreparable living conditions of suffering and pain.
Forms of Euthanasia
1. Physician assisted suicide (PAS): – in this process the physician with the consent of the individual provides for a medical treatment which results in the death of the person in a painless manner. It is considered as the most effective method of dying.
2. Voluntary euthanasia: – it is a process in which the individual is in full consciousness decides to end his or her life with the help of another person. Before this kind of euthanasia takes place, the person who is willing to end his life must be made aware of the process and his full consent should be obtained before the process of voluntary euthanasia begins.
3. Non voluntary euthanasia: – in this the decision of ending the life of an individual is taken by some other person like family members or life partners etc. This happens when the individual is in a permanent state of unconsciousness and it is incurable then such kind of decision can be taken by some other person.
4. Activeeuthanasia: – it means where the doctor himself or herself interferes and directly ends the life of an individual who is in a state of permanent suffering which are irremediable and endless. The consent of the individual is important. The doctor can directly cause the death of the individual in a painless manner either by giving a high dose of a drug or by injecting a lethal. This type of euthanasia is known as Positive or Aggressive euthanasia.
5. Passive euthanasia: – means when the individual intentionally withdraws itself from the necessary and essential elements like food water etc., which in turn causes the death of the individual. This process also includes the intentional removal of the artificial life support system. This form of euthanasia is known as Negative or Non-Aggressive euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is considered to be a slower form of killing than active euthanasia.
Is euthanasia constitutionally valid?
Passive euthanasia is the only form of euthanasia which is constitutionally valid in India. In Common Cause (a regd. society) v. UOI, it was held that a person’s fundamental rights also includes the right to die with dignity. This can be availed only when a patient is suffering from an incurable disease or a prolonged disease which has no cure and only has endless pain and suffering or have reached the state of permanent vegetation where there is almost no hope of survival or where the patient is alive only with the help of artificial life support system. In such conditions, passive euthanasia is allowed.
Before this judgment even passive euthanasia was unconstitutional in India. The doctor who caused euthanasia was penalized under exception 5 of section 300 of the IPC which had a requisite that the doctor had the intention of causing death of the concerned patient, In cases of voluntary euthanasia the doctor was punishable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder since there was a valid consent, thedoctorof such person causing euthanasia was penalized under the ambit of section 304 of the IPC. Only voluntary euthanasia is punishable under section 304 of the IPC and not non voluntary euthanasia because in voluntary euthanasia the person himself gives the consent to cause his death. Active euthanasia was always a crime in India.
In Gian Kaur v. state of Punjab, the most important points in the favour of legalizing euthanasia in India were laid down by the Court that right to life provided under the constitution includes the right to die. However, this was rejected by Supreme Court and Supreme Court held that the right to life under article 21 does not include the right to die and by no means it can be stretched to mean the same. Hence, the Supreme Court was not in the favour to hold the illegality of euthanasia to be constitutionally invalid.
In Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v.UOIit was held that for an incompetent person who is not able to take decisions as to whether to withdraw life support or not, since the courts are considered to be the guardian of the constitution, it is the court alone, which can ultimately take decision in the case where an incompetent person was unable to take a decision whether to withdraw life support or not, the views of the family member, spouse and doctors must be given importance. Consequently, in this case, to Supreme Court held that active euthanasia is completelyillegal, passiveeuthanasia, to an extent, following the guidelines laid down in the case, legalized.
The 241streport of the Law Commission has recommended the legalization of euthanasia.
Indian courts have recognized passive euthanasia, in which the doctor does not cause the death of the person he just simply does not save him by stopping the ongoing treatment or removing the life support systems through which the patient was alive. Active euthanasia which occurs as a result of administering or injecting a high dose of lethal drug or the over dosage of such a drug or medicine which otherwise would not be lethal but because of the overdosage in the body of the victim has been recognized in the Indian court as of now.
Euthanasia has been legalizedrecognized by some of the countries in the world but the legalization of euthanasia in India is still not very accepting. The Indian courts have taken a long time from the cases of Gian Kaur, Aruna Shanbaug, to the case of Common Cause (a regd. society) in recognizing and legalizingeuthanasia and have legalized passive, voluntary euthanasia. Supreme Court is the highest court of judicature and its decisions are binding and all the citizens of the country hence it’s decision of legalizing passive voluntary euthanasia is appreciated. Active euthanasia has not been legalized yet.
“This article is authored by Kavya Jain, student of UPES, Dehradun”.