The common belief around the different countries in the world is that the care of human life and happiness is the ultimate goal of good governance and not the destruction of human life. Whereas this statement stands in contradiction of ‘Right to Die’. When the most precious right enshrined in our Constitution is Right to Life (Article 21 of Indian Constitution) how can the same Constitution give recognition to Right to Die? The right to die has gained some form of recognition around the world and has been time and again been denied by concepts of Euthanasia, mercy killing, Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS), Suicide, etc. This article gives a comparative aspect of the Right to Life and Right to Die in India and the USA.
Euthanasia and the United States
Active euthanasia is illegal throughout the United States. Though, patients have the right to refuse the medical treatment they are undergoing and to receive proper management of pain at their request (passive euthanasia), even if the patients’ choice ultimately accelerates the patient’s death. Additionally, when a medical treatment becomes futile or useless burdensome, such as life-support machines, such a treatment can be withdrawn under specified circumstances and the federal law and most state laws, one of the main provision under this is that there must be informed consent of the patient or, in the event of the incompetence of the patient, with the informed consent of the patient’s legal surrogate.
While active euthanasia is illegal throughout the United States, assisted euthanasia is legal in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, and New Mexico.
Euthanasia and India
In India a long-debated question in-front of legislatures and courts has been whether the right to live also includes the right to die and if it doesn’t will it is violative of the Right to personal dignity (Article 21 of Indian Constitution) which is one of the basic features that is enshrined in our constitution. Now the question arises, whether the right to personal dignity also includes the right to die with dignity. In the case of Gian Kaur v State of Punjab (1996 SCC (2) 648), a question arose in front of the Supreme Court whether Article 21 would also include Right to die. The bench held that the Right to life does not include the Right to Die. In Naresh Marotrao Sakhre v. Union of India (1996 (1) Bom CR 92), it was affirmed by the court that Euthanasia or mercy killing is a form of homicide irrelevant of the fact in whatever circumstances it is affected. Later on in the case of Aruna Shanbaug v Union of India & Ors ((2011) 4 SCC 454)., it held that passive euthanasia could be a possibility if the apex court agrees towards it. Whereas In the 241st Report of the Law Commission of India was based on Passive Euthanasia this report has recognized passive euthanasia, but to date, no such law has been enacted. In the case of mentioned above Aruna Shanbaug was a nurse at the King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, on 27 November 1973, she was raped by a sweeper. During the assault, she was strangled by a chain, this attack left her in a vegetative state ever since. On behalf of the victim, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court which presented forth that the continued existence of Aruna in this state was violative of her right to lead a dignified life. Ultimately, the Apex Court rejected the plea to discontinue Aruna’s life support but set forth broad guidelines that legalized passive euthanasia in India. Further, in the case of A (Common Cause) v Union of India (AIR 3018 SC 1665), the Supreme Court held that the right to die with dignity is also a component of the right to life. The bench further stated that there is no requirement of legislation to legalize passive euthanasia.
How can euthanasia be granted?
In the same case, the Supreme Court provided with a two-step vetting process by the first vetting process is set forth by the medical experts and a final vetting by a judicial magistrate. The second is to be done by the hospital treating the person where the hospital will set up a medical board along with the head of the department treating the patient along with three other medical experts who will set forth whether euthanasia is to be favored or not. The decision of the bench has to be conveyed to the district collector who will make a decision vetted by another medical board consisting of the chief medical officer and three medical experts with 20 years of experience. If this board also agrees to grant euthanasia the magistrate will ensure that euthanasia is carried out.
Euthanasia literally translates into good death. In today’s world, euthanasia refers to the intentional killing of someone whose life is not worth living anymore. Nowhere, in the rules and judgments has it been mentioned that euthanasia applies to patients and not people. Due to this reason, the legislation has said to consider that euthanasia can lead to a disastrous impact on society.
Decriminalization of suicide (Section 309 of Indian Penal Code) has proved to be a turning point; this has opened up to understand what all does Right to Die enables.
It has been debated that the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution has been vested with a right to lead a dignified life, and then it should also cover the aspect of what happens when a person does not have the means to live a less dignified life. Euthanasia is a procedure through which a person can be given a humane and dignified death. With this, there arises a need to be careful regarding the implementation of euthanasia and a due procedure cited by the court for the implementation of passive euthanasia should be followed.
There is a state where a person becomes a financial and emotional liability to himself, to his family as well as the nations. For such a person there needs to be a way out to opt out to live a life as a liability. There are more than a few aspects where applying euthanasia can help save other people by harvesting the organs of the person who is to be euthanized. So now the question arises how euthanasia can be implemented without it being misused.
“The views of the authors are personal“
Frequently Asked Questions
Is euthanasia legal in India?
Euthanasia can be divided into two parts, one being active and the other being passive. Active euthanasia is illegal in India though there is a judgement given by the Apex court that supports the implementation of Passive Euthanasia.
Is there any Act that governs the implementation of Euthanasia?
Currently there are no Acts that governs the implementation of Euthanasia. In the case of A v UOI the supreme court laid down rules that regulated the implementation of euthanasia.
What is the procedure for a person to be euthanised?
The following procedure is followed while implementation of Euthanasia. There is a two-step vetting process by the first vetting process is set forth by the medical experts and a final vetting by a judicial magistrate. The second is to be done by the hospital treating the person where the hospital will set up a medical board along with the head of the department treating the patient along with three other medical experts who will set forth whether euthanasia is to be favored or not.