A Suicide is when a person kills himself and a culpable homicide or a murder refers to when a person kills any other person. However, if a person gets killed by others on his own request then it is known as ‘Euthanasia’ or ‘mercy killing’. The word ‘Euthanasia’ is derived from Greek words, wherein ‘Eu’ means ‘good’ and ‘Thanatos’ means ‘death’. Thus, in a literal sense, Euthanasia means good death. The term was coined by Philosopher Francis Bacon in the seventeenth century.
Euthanasia refers to deliberately ending someone’s life, usually to relieve their suffering on their own request. Doctors sometimes perform euthanasia when it is requested by people who have a terminal illness and have been in pain for a very long time. It’s a complex process and involves weighing many factors. Local laws, someone’s physical and mental health, and their personal beliefs and wishes are some of the crucial aspects that play an important role.
Euthanasia is not a new concept. Let’s peek into the pages of the history in order to understand the concept more heedfully. In 500 BC, Euthanasia started in the ancient time of Greece and Rome. One of the incidents which came forward was that those who were born with severe defects were being put to an end. In fact, Voluntary Euthanasia was an approved custom for the elderly strata of society.
Historical Position in India
During the Vedic Period, religious suicides were common and it can be traced from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. While writing commentaries on Manu, Govardhana and Kulluka observed that a man may take his death if he is suffering from an incurable disease. There were two views on this –
- A) By helping others to end their lives is releasing him from unbearable suffering.
- B) By helping others to end their lives disturbs the cycle of death and rebirth and those who help will take the remaining sins of the deceased person.
But now the views of Hindus have changed.
Muslims are not in favor of Euthanasia. Their belief is that God gave them life and it’s his choice of how long people will live. Christians also hold the same viewpoint.
Basically, Euthanasia is a practice in which life can be put to an end intentionally to relieve the person from suffering and pain. To define Euthanasia in law terms, it means death at will or mercy killing.
Difference between Suicide and Euthanasia
There is a conceptual distinction between suicide and euthanasia.
|1. In a suicide, a man voluntarily kills himself by stabbing, poisoning, or in any other way. No doubt in suicide one intentionally attempts to take his life.||1. In Euthanasia, there is an action of some other person to bring to an end the life of another, on his own request.|
|2. It is an act or instance of intentionally killing oneself mostly due to depression or various reasons such as frustration in love, failure in examinations or in getting a good job, etc.||2. In euthanasia, a third person is either actively or passively involved i.e he aids or abets the killing of another person.|
It is important to mention in this context that there is also a difference between ‘assisted suicide’ and ‘euthanasia’.
|1. It is an act that intentionally helps another to commit suicide, for example by providing him with the means to do so.||1. Euthanasia may be active such as when a doctor gives a lethal injection to a patient or passive such as when a doctor removes the life support system of the patient.|
When it is a doctor who helps a patient to kill himself (by providing a prescription for lethal medication) it is a ‘physician-assisted suicide’. Thus, in assisted suicide, the patient is in complete control of the process that leads to death because he/she is the person who performs the act of suicide. The other person simply helps (for example, providing the means for acting).
Types of Euthanasia
- Active Euthanasia – In active euthanasia, a person directly and knowingly causes the death of the person for euthanasia.
- Passive Euthanasia – In passive euthanasia, a person for euthanasia left to die by removing life-supporting machines such as Ventilators.
- Voluntary Euthanasia – In Voluntary euthanasia, the person seeking euthanasia requests for death.
- Non-Voluntary Euthanasia – In non-voluntary euthanasia, the person for euthanasia is not in a stable mental or emotional condition or he/she is unconscious to understand euthanasia. So, any other person can take the decision of euthanasia on behalf of such a person.
- Involuntary Euthanasia – Involuntary Euthanasia, the person for euthanasia chooses life. However, he is killed. This is murder in terms of the law.
Related Acts and Statutes
The bill on euthanasia titled “Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients Bill, 2016” and it is yet to be declared as law. The Bill allows patients to take a decision to withhold medical treatment for themselves, provided that they have taken an informed decision and are of sound mind.
It provides protection to patients and medical practitioners from any liability for withdrawing medical treatment. The proposed legislation, taking a view similar to that of the Supreme Court, stated that its objective is to assist “for the right of a dignified death”.
The Bill was introduced after the judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case, in which the Supreme Court allowed passive euthanasia in her case. The apex court had then said that passive euthanasia should be allowed.
Though the bill is pending, laws will be enacted for Passive Euthanasia. However, an Active Euthanasia should also get legalize. The object of this law is to give a right to die to those people who suffer unbearable pain or suffering from an incurable disease and such suffering should be from a reasonable period of time.
The Question of Fundamental Right
Basically, the question which always popped up is why people don’t have a right to die? Our constitution provides right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950 but that includes the right to life? Are there any standard guidelines that define life or which defines how to live life with dignity? There are no such guidelines that define the term life. Nobody supports death. However, if someone is suffering from an unbearable pain or incurable state, then there should also be a right to die. That suffering should be from a reasonably long period.
Euthanasia and Abetment to Suicide
Euthanasia is often linked up with Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code which defines Abetment to Suicide. However, euthanasia does not promote the idea of abetment to suicide. If any person is suffering from an incurable disease, such a person should be relieved from such suffering and pain.
The person who seeks euthanasia can file a writ of mandamus under Article 226 in the High Court of the state having jurisdiction. The writ can also be filed under Article 32 in Supreme Court.
Meaning of Mandamus – an order from a court directing the inferior government official to properly discharge their duties or correct an abuse of discretion.
Can death be a good thing?
How can death can be a good thing. Life is all we have; if we lost it, we have lost everything. But there are many cases where death is a better option, for something to be a good thing, it must be a good thing for someone in particular. The ethicist Philippa footnotes two possibilities: death may be beneficial for
- everyone, on average, or
- the person concerned.
Philippa feels that only cases that satisfy (ii) can properly be termed as ‘euthanasia’. This implies that the common withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments from newborns with severe mutations and permanently comatose adults does not always deserve the name of (passive) euthanasia. These patients’ lives are sometimes either neutral or good but limited, life, and their death is brought about for the benefit of parents or other relatives and society at large. That is why euthanasia is the best passage for patients who are at their end stages and they don’t have any hope to live further. Therefore, death can also be a good thing but it all depends upon the situation.
In Indian Constitution Article 21 is the repository of the Right to Life. It lays down that â€œno person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except by procedure established by law. However, the true import of this constitutional provision goes beyond these words. Article 21 has received a generous treatment at the hands of the Indian judiciary.
The Indian judiciary woke up to the all-encompassing import of the right to life quite late. The change in judicial attitude was perhaps motivated by the salutary principle that a constitutional provision must be construed, not in a narrow and constricted sense, but a wide and liberal manner. The courts have repeatedly held that while arriving at the proper meaning and content of the right to life, the attempt of the court should always be to expand the reach and ambit of the fundamental right rather than to attenuate its meaning and content. It is a result of this judicial approach that bundles of rights have been carved out of Article 21 of the constitution. A grand step was taken by the court in expanding the scope of Article 21 when it argued that life in Article 21 does not mean merely animal existence but living with human dignity.
By, the term life as here used something more is meant than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body by the amputation of an arm or legal.
The Indian Supreme court has thus given very extensive parameters to Article 21. It has become a source of many substantive rights and procedural safeguards to the people.
We think that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that does with it, namely the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing, and shelter over the head and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human beings.
Therefore, it is argued that every person has a life to live with at least a minimum dignity and when the state of existence falls below even that minimum level, the person must be allowed to end such torturous existence. The question of whether the Right to Die exists in the Indian Constitution has been a source of great legal debate. In India, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution has been the central point of discussion in this debate over euthanasia.
This matter came up before the Supreme Court of India in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug Case V. Union of India (2011) 4 SCC 454. In this particular case, Aruna Shanbaug was working as a junior nurse at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. She was raped by a ward boy, named Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki. One night, he attacked her in the basement of the same hospital while she was changing clothes then he strangled her neck with a dog chain, he sodomized her and left her in a strangling position. The next morning, when a sweeper went to clean the basement then she found her bleeding and unconscious. Due to strangling, oxygen supply did not reach her brain which ultimately damaged her brain to such an extent that she was no more in a state where she can feel anything. She became blind, deaf, paralyzed, and remained in a vegetative state for 37 years. After 37 years, in 2011, a famous journalist Pinki Virani filed the petition to the Supreme Court for her Euthanasia. While rejecting the petition, the Apex court laid down the guidelines for Passive Euthanasia. Later on, she died out of Pneumonia in 2015.
However, In Common Cause V. Union of India & Another 9th March 2018, the Supreme Court only allowed Passive Euthanasia by means of withdrawal of life support system in March 2018.
Death is as important as Life. If living life is important then quitting too. Death is not negative or discouraging. If a person is suffering from unbearable pain and incurable disease from a reasonable period of time. However, the question arises as to what is a reasonable period of time? – A reasonable period of time will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. There is no straight-jacket formula to decide a reasonable time period.
To die is both a part of life and a deep mystery at once. Death comes to everyone, yet each person experiences it in ways that are only partially accessible to the family member or doctor, the researcher, or philosopher. Humane and skillful treatment for the dying is, in theory, both collective responsibility and a genuine contribution from those personally concerned. In fact, all cultures and people fall shy of what is possible fairly, if not literally. Proof and knowledge also suggest that it’s far easier to die than it should be. So frequently the suffering individual was doomed to try not to discover no painless and happy death. The kind of destiny doesn’t need to be; better deaths are now probable.
(This article has been written and submitted by Mr. Yogesh Sharma during his course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Mr. Yogesh is a third-year law student at Chandigarh University, Gharuan, Mohali.)