Legalize Euthanasia or not: A Dilemma


What is Passive Euthanasia?

Passive Euthanasia as the name indicates is not related directly with the death of a Person but passively. It means when a patient is terminally ill or in a vegetative state for a prolonged period then that particular patient can avail Passive Euthanasia.

According to the Urban Dictionary, the definition of Passive Euthanasia is a condition when there is the withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill or a patient suffering in a vegetative state for a long period.

Again, to cast more light on it, Passive Euthanasia occurs when the patient dies because the medical professionals by receiving the consent of the patient either don’t render something necessary to keep the patient alive or stop doing something that is keeping the patient alive and eventually let him die.

Passive Euthanasia is when a death is brought by the omission of conduct but with the consent of the patient, also according to the rules currently made by the Indian Government any Citizen can draft a Living will refusing treatment in case if he/she is in Coma or Terminal illness.

For an example of withdrawal treatment – switching off a machine that is keeping a person alive, so that they die of their disease.

What is Active Euthanasia?

When a person’s health condition is in derogative condition and not ready to accept any related treatment, at that point in time the Doctors may take that patient under Active Euthanasia.

Speaking about Active Euthanasia, the number of pain releases out of it is morally better and less painful also quicker and cleaner for the patient than Passive Euthanasia.

When the medical professionals or another person do something that causes the patient to die directly unlike Passive Euthanasia, it is termed as Active Euthanasia which is not permitted in India.

Suicide and Euthanasia.

Euthanasia and suicide are different from each other, Observing the distinctions between euthanasia and suicide, Lodha J. in Naresh Marotrao Sakhre v. Union of India1, stated: Suicide by its very nature is an act of self-killing or self-destruction, an act of terminating one’s own life and without getting assistance from any other human agency. Euthanasia or mercy killing also means the intervention of other human beings to end life. Mercy killing thus is not suicide and an attempt of mercy killing is not covered under the provisions of Section 309. Euthanasia or mercy killing is nothing but homicide regardless of the circumstances it may take place. In India, the law for assisting suicide is very clear and stringent that it is an offensive crime punishable under section 305 and 306 of the IPC.

Article 21 and Euthanasia.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution says Right to Life which means“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”

Article 21 in the constitution of India stands for ‘Right to life’ which is a natural right, but suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life and, therefore, incompatible and inconsistent with the notion of ‘right to life’. It is the duty of the State to guard the life and it’s the duty of a physician to provide utmost care and not to harm patients. As per surveys held globally, in Holland Legalised euthanasia has led to a severe decline in the quality of care for terminally-ill patients. Hence, in a welfare nation, there should not be any role of euthanasia in any form.

Here the question arises whether Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes the Right to Die or not!  A case regarding this first came into the High Court of Bombay in “State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Shripathi Dubai”.Where the court decided to strike down Article 309 and said ‘Right to life’ is equal to ‘Right to Die’. The court again said the right to die is not unnatural but is just uncommon and abnormal. Also, this decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India.

In 1996, a case under section 306 came to SC, in which the accused were already convicted in the trial court and later on the same been upheld by the Bombay HC. As the SC had already taken Article 21 for ‘Right to Die’, hence to surmount the violation of this Article and the provisions laid down under it which is ‘if a person is getting convicted after committing conduct under Article 21, then it will be considered as a thorough violation of the Article’ there was issued an appeal which made the Supreme Court rethink on its own decision of ‘Right to die’. After this matter was referred to a constitution bench of the SC which held that the right to life under Article 21 of the constitution does not include the right to die.

However, in the case of Gian Kaur v. the State of Punjab, the SC withdrew its previous judgment by stating that article 21 of the constitution does not include the right to die.  And in this case that Article 21 only guarantees the right to life and personal liberty and in no case right to die to be included in it.

Whether Euthanasia should be legalized or not in India?

Morally this distinction will leave unscrupulous and unethical result, since an individual or a medical professional when actively kill the patient, they are completely aware that their act going to kill the patient still they do this by the consent of the patient as a name of mercy killing in the reputation of euthanasia. Some do this for the sake of the patient’s quick death or painless death.

Stephen Hawking has described illegalizing Euthanasia as “Discrimination against the disabled, to deny them the right to kill themselves that able-bodied people have”. Euthanasia empowers people to place an end to their prolonged misery. The extreme suffering that one undergoes in dying, pin by pin, might be led to a dignified way through euthanasia, where the patient has the choice to settle on his own death. Dr. Philip Nitscake, who has conducted several euthanasia deaths, narrates the story of one of his southern Australian patients who, before dying, had a hearty meal and shared some intimate moments together with his wife. Euthanasia gives one the power to liberate oneself with dignity.

In India legalizing Euthanasia was a difficult task to get it done before the year 2010 also did not exist before the case of Aruna Shanbaug, a rape survivor, who went into the persistent vegetative state afterward for the next 42 years before dying at the age of 68. Whereas Euthanasia was already legal in countries such as Switzerland, Albania, and Belgium.

Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse working at the KEM Hospital in Bombay was brutally raped, which caused her to be in a vegetative state in the year of 1973. However, even after remaining in a vegetative state for thirty-seven years, her lawyer was not able to convince the Indian government to take any firm action for legalizing euthanasia. And this judgment on this had shredded a rage of debates across the country, on the topic of legalization of euthanasia.

In the year of 2010, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for euthanasia filed by Aruna’s friend journalist Pinki Virani, by setting up a medical panel to examine her. In 2011, the Supreme Court finally passed a judgment in favor, that clarified that” Passive Euthanasia” was not illegal.

Law and Euthanasia

Before the Shanbaug Case, Euthanasia was completely illegal in India. The law of India used to justify this by saying if a Doctor tries to kill a patient the case would surely fall under section 300 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. Whereas this happens with the sole consent of the patient, the doctors can avail the exception adjoined to this section i.e exception 5 of section 300 and thus the doctor will be liable under section 304 of IPC. Cases of non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia would be struck by proviso 1 to section 92 of the IPC and thus will be rendered illegal.


Inactive euthanasia a person or a medical professional directly and deliberately causes the patient’s death. But In passive euthanasia, they just allow the patient directly to die.

Active euthanasia means when the death is conducted by an act – for example when a person is killed by being given an overdose of pain-killers.

Passive euthanasia is when a death takes place by an omission – i.e. when someone lets the person die. This can be by withdrawing or withholding treatment.

Provided, the conduct of mercy killing can only take place only after receiving consent for it from the patient also the consent can be accepted when the patient is in his/her sound mind and health. This is the condition which is made by the Indian Government to be strictly followed to avoid misusing these rights.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many types of Euthanasia is there?

In India euthanasia has been classified into four parts i.e., active, passive, indirect, and physician-assisted suicide.

Is Active Euthanasia illegal in India and why?

Yes, Active Euthanasia is Illegal, unlike Passive Euthanasia. As we understood, Active Euthanasia or Voluntary Euthanasia is less painful as compared to Passive Euthanasia also it takes lesser time to kill a patient by taking care of all the aspects of getting pain during the vegetative state. So to make it functional the medical professionals need to be extra careful towards addressing all means of a person suffering which cannot be possible easily also if this made legal then Death would be cheaper than Medical treatment.

What is Indirect Euthanasia and assisted Euthanasia?

Indirect euthanasia means to allow someone to die by allowing the death without keeping a direct link between the action, intent, and result. Whereas assisted suicide means another person providing the means or assisting someone with self-killing.

Edited by Shikhar Shrivastava

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

Tulsi Rajeswari Sahoo
Tulsi Rajeswari Sahoo, BA.LLB Graduate in 2018 fro Utkal University Law College, Odisha. Former Compliance Associate manager at Eminent India Pvt.Ltd,New Delhi. Possessing Keen Interest in Legal Writing and Drafting