Author: Aditi Srivastava, BCOM LLB ,Jindal Global Law School, O.P Jindal Global University
Euthanasia, also known as “mercy killing” or “assisted suicide,” is a highly debated topic in medical ethics. It revolves around the question of whether individuals and animals should have the right to choose the timing and manner of their own death when faced with unbearable pain and suffering. The term “euthanasia” originates from the combination of the Greek words “eu” meaning “good” and “Thanatos” meaning “death” implying that it offers a peaceful and dignified end to those experiencing prolonged agony or undignified deaths.
Throughout history, euthanasia has remained a topic of discussion, as it touches upon the fundamental aspect of human and animal rights—the right to life—which has been universally upheld for numerous years. This practice of facilitating a “good death” gives rise to societal, ethical, and moral conflicts. Death is inherently viewed as a loss, making it challenging to conceive of it in a positive light. In India and globally, the legalization of euthanasia has been a subject of judicial scrutiny for a significant period. Despite its age-old existence, the debate surrounding euthanasia continues, with varying perspectives and viewpoints at its core.
The practice of euthanizing stray dogs should be subject to strict regulations and guidelines to ensure it is carried out in a responsible and humane manner. In the case of the recent incidents in Kerala, where violent attacks by stray dogs resulted in fatalities, it is understandable that there is a sense of urgency to address the issue. Nevertheless, it is essential to prioritize alternative methods of managing stray dog populations rather than resorting to euthanasia as a first option.
Euthanasia of stray dogs
Euthanasia, specifically active euthanasia, is illegal in India. However, passive euthanasia, which involves withdrawing life-sustaining treatments, was legalized in 2018 for patients with a living will, terminal illness, or in a vegetative state. In the case of stray dogs, euthanasia is practiced in India and other countries to address overpopulation, disease control, public safety concerns, and animal welfare. Regulations and guidelines are in place to ensure euthanasia is conducted in a humane manner. Qualified veterinarians carry out euthanasia for stray dogs, considering the seriousness of the decision. Open communication about the animal’s condition and knowledge of alternative care options are essential. Euthanasia must be administered humanely, following approved methods specified by the Animal Welfare Board of India. The presence of other dogs during euthanasia should be avoided, and confirmation of the animal’s demise is necessary before disposal.
Although animals cannot provide explicit consent, their health status and relevant factors should be prioritized. Euthanasia decisions should not be rushed, and due process must be followed to ensure the well-being of the animal. It is crucial to approach euthanasia for animals with care and consideration. Rather than resorting to mass killings by way of euthanasia, a more humane approach to managing stray dog populations involves implementing comprehensive strategies. This includes sterilization programs, responsible pet ownership promotion, and public education on animal welfare. Euthanasia should only be considered as a last resort in exceptional circumstances.
Animal’s fundamental rights in India
The Constitution of India recognizes the inherent rights of animals and emphasizes the importance of safeguarding and treating them with dignity. It establishes that it is the fundamental duty of Indian citizens to protect and provide appropriate care for animals. Over time, Indian courts have also acknowledged the fundamental rights of animals through significant rulings and pronouncements. These legal developments reflect the growing understanding and recognition of the rights and welfare of animals within the country. Article 21 is of utmost importance and holds great relevance for the welfare of animals. According to this article, every person has the right to life and personal liberty, which cannot be deprived except through a lawful procedure. However, the Supreme Court has extended the application of this article by including animals within its scope.
In the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja and Others, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Animal Welfare Board and declared Article 51A(g) as the “Magna Carta of animal rights.” The court also stated that the right to life under Article 21 is applicable to all species, including animals, and encompasses protection against deprivation of life. The term “life” interpretation extends to encompass any disruptions to the fundamental environment and its elements. This basic environment encompasses all forms of life, including animals, as they are essential for the existence of human life and fall within the ambit of this article. In Court on its own motion v. And Another, the court expressed its perspective that animals entitled to fundamental right, emphasizing that it is the responsibility of human beings to alleviate the suffering of animals and ensure their well-being.
Also, in the case of N.R. Nair v. Union of India, the Kerala High Court broke down the barriers between humans and non-humans by contemplating the provision of fundamental rights to animals. The court emphasized the importance of extending legal rights beyond human beings, emphasizing that such rights should not be limited to humans alone.
In recent distressing incidents, a tragic event occurred on June 11, 2023, when an 11-year-old child with autism was fatally attacked by a pack of stray dogs in Kannur. Similarly, in 2022, another heartbreaking incident took place in Kottayam District, Kerala, where a 12-year-old girl lost her life due to a stray dog attack. These incidents have prompted the district panchayat of Kannur to file a plea seeking permission to euthanize suspected rabid dogs or highly dangerous dogs, considering the escalating frequency of violent attacks by stray dogs in the district. In response to the escalating issue of stray dog incidents across various regions of the nation, the central government has officially released the Animal Birth Control Rules for the year 2023. These rules, implemented under the overarching Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960, aim to address the growing concern and provide a comprehensive framework for managing the situation. The ABC 2023 rules will supersede the Animal Birth Control (Dog) Rules, 2001.
Since the supreme court didn’t consider the petition filed by Kannur district panchayat, many people unleashed a violent drive to kill dogs in the state. Same mass killing of street dogs happened in Kerela in 2015, in a statewide program, almost one lakh dogs were murdered. Openly poisoning formulas and methods are being exchanged on social media chat groups, all manner of torture instruments are being ordered and killing is carrying on openly without any state or police intervention.
The mass killing of dogs in Kerala is a deeply troubling and unjustifiable act. Punishing one dog by causing harm to numerous innocent dogs is not only ethically wrong but also fails to address the underlying issue effectively. Furthermore, it does not provide a long-term solution to the problem of stray dog populations. It is a temporary and short-sighted approach that fails to address the root causes of the issue. It is important for public to understand that euthanasia is considered as a last resort only for dogs that are incurably ill, severely injured, or experiencing unmanageable pain.
The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules of 2001, enforced by Section 38 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, aim to reduce stray dog population through sterilization and collaboration with animal welfare organizations, individuals, and local authorities. Rules 9 and 10 allow euthanasia of incurably ill, mortally wounded, or rabid dogs. The 2023 rules permit euthanasia of incurably ill or mortally wounded dogs under the local animal birth control monitoring committee’s diagnosis, conducted humanely by a qualified veterinarian. While the ABC 2023 rules do not explicitly address euthanizing rabid dogs or dogs involved in attacks, such situations are typically handled under separate legal provisions.
When a dog is suspected of having rabies, public health authorities and animal control agencies take swift action to prevent the spread of the disease to humans and other animals. Quarantine measures are often implemented, isolating the potentially rabid dog for observation to confirm the presence of the virus. If rabies is confirmed, measures are taken to prevent further transmission, such as administering appropriate vaccinations or, in severe cases, euthanizing the affected dog to eliminate the risk of infection.
Additionally, in cases where dogs are involved in aggressive or violent attacks on humans or other animals, comprehensive evaluations are conducted. The goal is to assess the dog’s behavior, history, and potential risks posed by the animal. Based on this evaluation, appropriate measures are taken to protect public safety and prevent further harm. Depending on the severity of the attack and the likelihood of future aggression, actions may include behavior training, or strict containment measures. Euthanasia is not an option for dogs affected by certain circumstances, such as rabies or involvement in attacks. In these cases, there are already established alternatives that prioritize public safety while also addressing the needs of the animals involved.
The practice of euthanizing stray dogs should be deemed illegal
The act of euthanizing stray dogs must be deemed illegal due to ethical and compassionate reasons. Rather than resorting to such extreme measures, it is crucial to prioritize alternative methods that address the core issue of overpopulation and ensure the well-being of these animals. There are several reasons why euthanasia of stray dogs should be deemed illegal.
- Euthanizing stray dogs raises significant ethical concerns as it brings into question the intrinsic value of animal life and the moral responsibility humans have towards them. Many individuals firmly believe that all animals, including stray dogs, should be treated with compassion and respect, and euthanasia may be viewed as a violation of this principle.
- From an animal welfare standpoint, euthanasia is not considered a humane solution to address the issue of stray dogs. Ending an animal’s life through euthanasia can inflict unnecessary pain and suffering, which goes against the objective of promoting their well-being.
- Euthanizing stray dogs can lead to various legal and social implications. In many jurisdictions, there are robust animal rights organizations and activists who actively advocate for the protection and humane treatment of animals. Euthanasia measures may face legal challenges and can generate public backlash.
- It is important to recognize that euthanasia alone is not a comprehensive or sustainable solution for managing stray dog populations in the long term. It fails to address the root causes of overpopulation, such as the lack of awareness about spaying/neutering or the abandonment of animals.
To effectively control and manage stray dog populations, implementing comprehensive sterilization and vaccination programs, along with educational initiatives promoting responsible pet ownership, is essential. By embracing these alternative approaches, we can address the issue of stray dogs while respecting their lives and welfare, promoting a harmonious coexistence between humans and animals. Active euthanasia, which involves intentionally ending the lives of stray dogs, is the only method employed to address the issue of stray dog populations. However, this practice raises significant concerns as it infringes upon the fundamental right to life and liberty of these animals, protected under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Stray dogs, being unable to provide explicit consent, are particularly vulnerable in cases of euthanasia.
The Supreme Court of India has emphasized the need to protect animal rights and recognize their inherent worth and welfare in recent years. In the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja and Others, the Supreme Court ruled that euthanasia of severely ill or fatally injured stray dogs is the only permissible circumstance for such actions. This signifies a shift towards a more compassionate and ethical approach to animal rights within the Indian legal system. Considering the ethical implications and legal framework surrounding the euthanization of stray dogs, it is crucial to explore alternative strategies for managing stray dog populations. These may include sterilization and vaccination programs, adoption initiatives, and the establishment of animal shelters or sanctuaries. By prioritizing the well-being and rights of stray dogs, these approaches promote responsible and compassionate animal management.
In conclusion, stray dog euthanasia raises ethical concerns, violating their fundamental right to life and liberty. The Supreme Court allows euthanasia only for severely ill or fatally injured stray dogs. Instead of euthanasia, alternative strategies should prioritize addressing root causes and ensuring animal welfare. The recent Kerala case highlights the need to respect the rights of all animals, including suspected rabid or dangerous dogs. Euthanizing them would violate their fundamental rights under Article 21. Sterilization, vaccination, and adoption through dog NGOs are more humane and effective methods for managing stray dog populations. The government must implement stronger measures, educate the public on responsible pet ownership, and promote individual responsibility. A comprehensive and ethical approach is necessary to uphold the rights and well-being of stray dogs in India.