Article 21 of the Indian constitution is one of the most important Articles
in the Indian constitution, which accords sanctity to the human life. Article 21
casts an onerous duty on the state to preserve the life of each person within
its realm. It at the same time grants the state the power to deprive a person of
his life and liberty in accordance with the procedure established by law.
Article 21 has been used by the judiciary umpteen times to broaden the very
concept of the term life so as to cover everything which goes to constitute the
life of a person. Lately a debate has been raked up in the socio-legal circles
regarding the concept of euthanasia and its validity in the Indian
constitutional scheme. This paper is an attempt to trace the evolution of the
concept of euthanasia and its legality in light of the mandate of Article 21of
the Indian constitution.
Death is never the first choice, and people opt for this path only because there
is none other left to take.
Euthanasia is not something new or unknown to mankind. In ancient Greece and
Rome, helping others to put an end to their lives was permitted in certain
situations. The term euthanasia is derived from the Greek words “eu” and
“thanatos” which means “good death” or “easy death”. It is also known as Mercy
Killing. Euthanasia literally means putting a person to painless death
especially in case of incurable suffering or when life becomes purposeless as a
result of mental or physical handicap. The Law commission defined “Euthanasia’
as the act of killing someone painlessly, especially, for relieving suffering of
a person from incurable illness.
In the popular mind, "euthanasia" conjures the image of an elderly, terminally
ill, lucid patient requesting the assistance of health carers to die now pain
free rather than to die later after profound suffering . Over the years, it has
turned out to be one of the most controversial issues in law, medicine, ethics,
religion and politics. The law commission in its report on “Medical Treatment to
Terminally Ill Patients “tried to give an account of the present day scenario
with respect to the terminally ill patients in light of the recent medical
It observed that:
“A hundred years ago, when
medicine and medical technology had not invented the artificial methods of
keeping a terminally ill patient alive by medical treatment, including by means
of ventilators and artificial feeding, such patients were meeting their death on
account of natural causes. Today, it is accepted, a terminally ill person has a
common law right to refuse modern medical procedures and allow nature to take
its own course, as was done in good old times. It is well-settled law in all
countries that a terminally ill patient who is conscious and is competent, can
take an ‘informed decision’ to die a natural death and direct that he or she be
not given medical treatment which may merely prolong life. There are currently a
large number of such patients who have reached a stage in their illness when
according to well-informed body of medical opinion; there are no chances of
recovery. But modern medicine and technology may yet enable such patients to
prolong life to no purpose and during such prolongation, patients could go
through extreme pain and suffering. Several such patients prefer palliative care
for reducing pain and suffering and do not want medical treatment, which will
merely prolong life or postpone death.
The above account presents a grim picture of the terminally ill people who are
living under unbearable pain with no chance of regaining back the quality of
life that they used to enjoy in the past. Such patients are in a pitiable
condition because they have lost their basic cognitive faculties, which are
vital to live a meaningful life. Many people are of the opinion that patients
who are terminally ill, and who are having no chance of recovery should be
allowed the right to die as prolonging their lives merely adds to their pain and
suffering. There are some who believe that individuals should have an
unqualified right to die, while there are others who consider all forms of
euthanasia to be murder or suicide and, thus, immoral.
Classification of EuthanasiaEuthanasia can be broadly be classified into two categories
(a) Active euthanasia and (b) Passive Euthanasia.
Active euthanasia means a positive merciful act to end useless sufferings and a
meaningless existence. It is an act of COMMISSION for example by giving large
doses of a drug to hasten death.Passive Euthanasia or negative
euthanasiaimplies not using or discontinuing the use of extraordinary
life-sustaining measures to prolong life. This includes an act of omission, such
as failure to resuscitate a terminally ill or hopelessly incapacitated patient
or severely defectively newborn infant. It involves non-use of the measures that
would probably delay death and permit natural death to occur. Similarly,
euthanasia may be categorized into Voluntary and Involuntary Euthanasia.
Voluntary Euthanasia is where the consent is taken from the patient, whereas
non-voluntary euthanasia is where the consent is unavailable. Here the
individual is unable to ask for euthanasia and another person makes the decision
on his/her behalf, usually based on previously expressed wishes.
Many arguments have been advanced by scholars, human rights philosophers and law
thinkers advocating legalization of euthanasia all over the world. These are
made on the basis of moral, human rights, and utilitarian grounds. The moral
ground is that it is against morality to leave someone in severe pain and do
nothing for his/her relief. The human rights angle is that leaving a patient in
severe pain would amount to directly challenging the fundamental right of the
individual i.e., the right to a dignified life. The utilitarian principle
believes in the greatest degree of happiness to the maximum number of people.
According to this, if anyone is terminally ill, lying in hospital and is in
severe pain, then it would not bring his/her family happiness and it will suffer
because of his/her pain. Therefore, utilitarian thinkers argue that an act or
abstaining from an act which does not give happiness to anyone is wrong. These
views have been gaining support in the social circles triggering a debate on the
question whether right to life includes within it the right to die especially in
the context of Euthanasia or Mercy Killing.
Euthanasia- Trends In Different Countries
The laws with reference to the permissibility of euthanasia vary from country to
country. Most countries have been reluctant to accommodate active euthanasia
within their legal system whereas some of the countries have taken a lead in
legalizing it. The reluctance to accord legal sanctity to euthanasia stems from
the fact that many countries consider the practice of euthanasia as morally and
ethically abhorrent. The ethical considerations surrounding euthanasia in
different states have influenced tremendously in taking a legal position on the
subject in the states.
However, countries like Netherland took a radical step in the year 2000 when it
legalized euthanasia. The law which was passed by an overwhelming majority of
the Dutch lawmakers provides for the addition of a special “criminal liability
exclusion” clause to Article 293 and 294 of the Dutch Penal Code that deals with
the offence of homicide. By virtue of the exception, doctors are exonerated from
the commission of offences under the said Articles if they comply with the due
care criteria set out in Article 2 of the Act (Termination of Life on Request
and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act 2001).
Under the Dutch law, it is now legal for a doctor to help a patient who seeks
his assistance to end his life. Similarly, Belgium became the second country to
legalize active euthanasia The Belgian law sets out conditions under which
suicide can be practiced without giving doctors a license to kill. According to
the Belgian law, patients wishing to end their own lives must be conscious when
the demand is made and repeat their request for euthanasia. They have to be
under "constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain" resulting from an
accident or incurable illness. The law gives patients the right to receive
ongoing treatment with painkillers -- the authorities have to pay to ensure that
poor or isolated patients do not ask to die because they do not have money for
One of the important safeguards provided by the Law is that every mercy killing
case will have to be filed at a special commission to decide if the doctors in
charge are following the regulations. The Belgian Law makes departure from the
Dutch law when it comes to the issues of a minor patient.
Unlike the Dutch Law, the Belgian law does not permit the minor to seek
assistance to die. The Canadian law allows a person to refuse medical treatment
and the medical profession accepts the ‘living will’, but the law does not allow
the doctor to actively help someone to kill himself. Australia also has a
voluntary euthanasia law, which is stately working well. In Australia, a
computerized injection system is in use to accomplish euthanasia. In US, active
euthanasia is illegal barring certain States where it is permitted. In U.K,
active euthanasia is also prohibited by law.
However, with respect to passive euthanasia, the general legal position all over
the world seems to be that while active euthanasia is illegal unless there is
legislation permitting it, passive euthanasia is legal even without legislation
provided certain conditions and safeguards are maintained.
In Indian Constitution Article 21 is the repository of the Right to Life. It
lays down that “no 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 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 in 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. This judicial
attitude has mainly been influenced by the oft-quoted observation of the U.S
Supreme Court inMunn v Illinois
in which it was observed that
“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
amputation of an arm or leg…”
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
This judicial approach is epitomized by the observation of Bhagwati.J in Francis
Coralie’s case wherein, it was observed by the learned judge, that
“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
comingling with fellow human beings”.
Article 21 now includes within its ambit the right to travel abroad, right to
clean environment, right to livelihood, right to speedy trial, right to health,
etc. Now that it is well established that right to life does not mean mere
animal existence, but it includes a dignified or qualitative life. 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 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. The moot question for
consideration has been whether right to life under Article 21 also includes
right to die? According to M.P.Jain, if Article 21 confers on a person the right
to live a dignified life, does it also confer a right not to live if the person
chooses to end his life? If so then what is the fate of the provisions in the
penal code making attempt to commit suicide illegal.
This question has been posed before the Courts on several occasions during the
past decade especially with reference to the constitutional validity of Section
309 that makes attempt to commit suicide punishable. One of the earlier
instances of a court taking cognizance of such cases related to the judgment of
the Delhi High Court inState v Sanjay Kumar Bhatial. This perhaps was one of
the first instances where the courts in India made any reference to euthanasia.
The Division bench of the Delhi High Court while speaking through Sachar.J
"It is ironic that Section 309 IPC still continues to be on our Penal Code. ...
Strange paradox that in the age of votaries of Euthanasia, suicide should be
criminally punishable. Instead of the society hanging its head in shame that
there should be such social strains that a young man (the hope of tomorrow)
should be driven to suicide compounds its inadequacy by treating the boy as a
criminal. Instead of sending the young boy to psychiatric clinic it gleefully
sends him to mingle with criminals.... The continuance of Section 309 IPC is an
anachronism unworthy of a human society like ours.
In many such cases, it was argued that right to life includes within it the
right to die and therefore when a person attempts to commit suicide he is merely
exercising his fundamental right to die. It was therefore contended that as
Section 309 imposes fetters on this fundamental right it might be declared as
unconstitutional. Another instance where such an argument was successfully put
forward was theMaruti Dubal’s case. In this case, the Bombay High Court held
that Section 309 is unconstitutional as it violates Article 21. It was held by
the court that Article 21 includes within its ambit the right to die or to
terminate one's own life. The Honorable Supreme Court approved this
interpretation given to right to life in its decision inP.Rathinam’s case
The judgment of the Supreme Court in Rathinam’s case came to be criticized by
many as being a radical view on the right to life. The court ruling in
Rathinam’s came to be reviewed by the full bench of the Honorable Supreme
CourtinGian Kaur v State of Punjab
. The main issue before the court was
that if attempt to commit suicide is not regarded as penal then what happens to
someone who abets suicide which is a punishable act under Section 309 of the
Indian Penal Code. It was argued before the court that if the principal offence
of attempting to commit suicide is void as being unconstitutional then how could
its abetment be punishable. The court while overruling its judgment in
Rathinam’s case held that the significant aspect of 'sanctity of life' is also
not to be overlooked. Article 21 is a provision guaranteeing protection of life
and personal liberty and by no stretch of imagination can extinction of life' be
read to be included in protection of life'. Whatever may be the philosophy of
permitting a person to extinguish his life by committing suicide, we find it
difficult to construe Article 21 to include within it the right to die' as a
part of the fundamental right guaranteed therein. 'Right to life' is a natural
right embodied in Article 21 but suicide is an unnatural termination or
extinction of life and, therefore, incompatible and inconsistent with the
concept of right to life' . However, the court in Gain Kaur distinguished
between euthanasia and attempt to commit suicide. It was observed the honorable
supreme court that
“Euthanasia is termination of life of a person who is terminally ill or in a
persistent vegetative state. In such a case death due to termination of a
natural life is certain and imminent. The process of natural death has
commenced; it is only reducing the period of suffering during the process of
natural death. This not the case of extinguishing life but only of accelerating
conclusion of the process of natural death which has already begun. This may
fall within the concept of right to live with human dignity up to the end of
natural life. This may include the right of a dying man to die with dignity when
his life is ebbing out. But this cannot be equated with the right to die an
unnatural death curtailing the natural span of life.
Even though the court in Gian Kaur’s case referred to euthanasia, it stayed
clear of making any explicit pronouncement on its legality within the Indian
Constitutional scheme. Recently the Supreme Court was called upon to adjudicate
on the question with regard to the permissibility of euthanasia within the
Indian constitutional scheme. The court had to decide whether the right to life
guaranteed by Article 21 included within it the right to extinguish one’s life
in case of terminally ill patients having no hope of any recovery. This issue
came up before the Honorable Supreme Court in Aruna Ramachander Shanbaug v
Union of India.
On the night of 27 November 1973, Shanbaug was sexually assaulted by
Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, a sweeper on contract at the King Edward Memorial
Hospital. Sohanlal attacked her while she was changing clothes in the hospital
basement. He choked her with a dog chain and sodomized her. The asphyxiation cut
off oxygen to her brain, resulting in brain stem contusion injury, cervical cord
injury, and cortical blindness. She was discovered with blood splattered around
her at 7:45 am the next morning by a cleaner.
The police case was registered as a case of robbery and attempted murder because
of the concealment of anal rape by the doctors under the instructions of the
Dean of KEM, Dr. Deshpande.
A few days before her death, Shanbaug was diagnosed with pneumonia. She was
moved to the medical intensive care unit (MICU) of the hospital and put on a
ventilator. She died the morning of 18 May 2015.Her funeral was performed by the
hospital nurses and other staff members.
Shanbaug remained in a vegetative state from 1973 until her death in 2015.
17 December 2010, the Supreme Court, while admitting the plea to end the life
made by activist-journalist Pinki Virani, sought a report on Shanbaug's medical
condition from the hospital in Mumbai and the government of Maharashtra.
On 24 January 2011, 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. A three-member medical panel was established
under the Supreme Court's directive. After examining Shanbaug, the panel
concluded that she met "most of the criteria of being in a permanent vegetative
On 7 March 2011, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment, issued a set of
broad guidelines legalizing passive euthanasia in India. These guidelines for
passive euthanasia— i.e. the decision to withdraw treatment, nutrition, or
water—establish that the decision to discontinue life support must be taken by
parents, spouse, or other close relatives, or in the absence of them, by a "next
friend". This decision requires approval from the concerned High Court.
In its judgment, the court declined to recognize Virani as the "next friend" of
Aruna Shanbaug, and instead treated the KEM hospital staff as the "next friend."
Since the KEM Hospital staff wished that Aruna Shanbaug be allowed to live,
Virani's petition to withdraw life support was declined. However, the court
further stipulated that the KEM hospital staff, with the approval of the Bombay
High Court, had the option of withdrawing life support if they changed their
On 25 February 2014, while hearing a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause, a
three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India said that the prior opinion in
the Aruna Shanubaug case was based on a wrong interpretation of the Constitution
Bench's opinion in
Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab.
The court also determined that the opinion was internally inconsistent because
although it held that euthanasia can be allowed only by an act of the
legislature, it then proceeded to judicially establish euthanasia guidelines.
The court referred the issue to a larger Constitution Bench for resolution,
Following the Supreme Court decision rejecting the plea, the nursing staff at
the hospital—who had opposed the petition and had been looking after Shanbaug
since she had lapsed into a vegetative state—distributed sweets and cut a cake
to celebrate what they termed her "rebirth". A senior nurse at the hospital
later said, "We have to tend to her just like a small child at home. She only
keeps aging like any of us, does not create any problems for us.
We take turns looking after her and we love to care for her. How can anybody
think of taking her life?"
Pinki Virani's lawyer, Shubhangi Tulli, decided not to file an appeal, saying
"the two-judge ruling was final till the SC decided to constitute a larger bench
to re-examine the issue." Pinki Virani said, "Because of this woman who has
never received justice, no other person in a similar position will have to
suffer for more than three and a half decades."
The case related to Aruna Shanbaug, a terminally ill patient who has been living
in a persistent vegetative state for the past 37 years. The plea for euthanasia
was filed on behalf of Aruna by one Pinky Virani who claimed to be her next
friend. Her plea was opposed by the KEM hospital which has been taking care of
her for the past 37 years. It was argued before the court that Aruna The
Honorable Supreme Court in its judgment while permitting passive euthanasia
unequivocally declared Active Euthanasia using lethal substances or forces to
kill the terminally ill patient as illegal and a crime under Section 302, 304 of
the Indian Penal Code. The bench in its judgment distinguished active and
passive euthanasia from a purely legalistic point of view. The court observed
that the difference between active and passive euthanasia is that in active
euthanasia something is done to end the patient’s life while in passive
euthanasia something is not done that would have preserved the patient’s life.
The court elaborated this proposition by observing that
“At the heart of this
distinction lies a theoretical question. Why is it that the doctor who gives his
patient a lethal injection, which kills him, commits an unlawful act and indeed
is guilty of murder, whereas a doctor who, by discontinuing life support, allows
his patient to die, may not act unlawfully - and will not do so, if he commits
no breach of duty to his patient? Professor Glanville Williams has suggested
(see his Textbook of Criminal Law, 2nd ed., p. 282) that the reason is that what
the doctor does when he switches off a life support machine 'is in substance not
an act but an omission to struggle, and that 'the omission is not a breach of
duty by the doctor because he is not obliged to continue in a hopeless case’.
The court in its judgment dwelt in length on the ruling of the House of Lords in
Airedale case. It substantially agreed with the view expressed by the learned
judges in the Airedale ‘case with regard to the best interest doctrine. The
court also tried to incorporate the safeguards given by the House Lords in case
of passive euthanasia. The court following the Airedale’s case vested the High
Courts in India with the power to take a final call on appeals for euthanasia
made by the relatives or next friend of the ailing person.
On 7 March 2018, the Supreme Court of India legalized passive euthanasia by
means of the withdrawal of life support to patients in a permanent vegetative
state. The decision was made as part of the verdict in a case involving Aruna
Shanbaug, who had been in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) until her death in
In March 2018, the Supreme Court of India passed a historic judgment-law
permitting Passive Euthanasia in the country. This judgment was passed in wake
of Pinki Virani’s plea to the highest court in December 2009 under the
Constitutional provision of “Next Friend”. It’s a landmark law which places the
power of choice in the hands of the individual, over government, medical or
religious control which sees all suffering as “destiny”.
The Supreme Court specified two irreversible conditions to permit Passive
Euthanasia Law in its 2011 Law: (I) The brain-dead for whom the ventilator can
be switched off
(II) Those in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) for whom the feed can be
tapered out and pain-managing palliatives be added, according to laid-down
The same judgment-law also asked for the scrapping of 309, the code which
penalizes those who survive suicide attempts. In December 2014, the government
of India declared its intention to do so.
However, on 25 February 2014, a three-judge bench of Supreme Court of India had
termed the judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case to be 'inconsistent in itself'
and has referred the issue of euthanasia to its five-judge Constitution bench.
And on December 23, 2014, Government of India endorsed and re-validated the
Passive Euthanasia judgement-law in a Press Release, after stating in the Rajya
Sabha as follows: that The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in its judgment dated
7.3.2011 [WP (Criminal) No. 115 of 2009], while dismissing the plea for mercy
killing in a particular case, laid down comprehensive guidelines to process
cases relating to passive euthanasia.
Thereafter, the matter of mercy killing was examined in consultation with the
Ministry of Law and Justice and it has been decided that since the Hon'ble
Supreme Court has already laid down the guidelines, these should be followed and
treated as law in such cases. At present, there is no proposal to enact
legislation on this subject and the judgment of the Hon'ble Supreme Court is
binding on all. The Health Minister, J P Nadda stated this in a written reply in
the Rajya Sabha.
The high court rejected active euthanasia by means of lethal injection. In the
absence of a law regulating euthanasia in India, the court stated that its
decision becomes the law of the land until the Indian parliament enacts a
suitable law. Active euthanasia, including the administration of lethal
compounds for the purpose of ending life, is still illegal in India, and in most
In 2018 the Supreme Court of India declared through a five-judge Constitution
bench that, if strict guidelines are followed, the government would honor
“living wills “allowing consenting patients to be passively euthanized if the
patient suffers from a terminal illness or is in a vegetative state.
The following guidelines were issued by the Honorable Supreme Court
(1)When such an application is filed the Chief Justice of the High Court should
forthwith constitute a Bench of at least two Judges who should decide to grant
approval or not. Before doing so the Bench should seek the opinion of a
committee of three reputed doctors to be nominated by the Bench after consulting
such medical authorities/medical practitioners as it may deem fit. Preferably,
one of the three doctors should be a neurologist; one should be a psychiatrist,
and the third a physician. For this purpose, a panel of doctors in every city
may be prepared by the High Court in consultation with the State
Government/Union Territory and their fees for this purpose may be fixed.
(2) The committee of three doctors nominated by the Bench should carefully
examine the patient and also consult the record of the patient, as well as
taking the views of the hospital staff and submit its report to the High Court
(3) Simultaneously with appointing the committee of doctors, the High Court
Bench shall also issue notice to the State and close relatives e.g. parents,
spouse, brothers/sisters etc. of the patient, and in their absence his/her next
friend, and supply a copy of the report of the doctor’s committee to them as
soon as it is available. After hearing them, the High Court bench should give
its verdict. The above procedure should be followed all over India until
Parliament makes legislation on this subject.
(4) The High Court should give its decision speedily at the earliest, since
delay in the matter may result in causing great mental agony to the relatives
and persons close to the patient. The High Court should give its decision
assigning specific reasons in accordance with the principle of ‘best interest of
the patient’ laid down by the House of Lords in Airedale’s case (supra). The
views of the near relatives and committee of doctors should be given due weight
by the High Court before pronouncing a final verdict which shall not be summary
The judgment in Shanbaug’s case was met with a mixed response while on the one
hand many welcomed it on the basic premise that there are limits to human
suffering, especially when there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It is
argued that a terminally ill patient cannot be kept on life support with the
hope that, in the near future, there may be developments in medicine, which may
save him or her. This approach is justified on the ground that quality of life
is as important as life itself. However, on the other side of the aisle there
are people who argue that if euthanasia is legalized, it could be misused.
Nevertheless, many contests this contention. It is argued this fear of misuse
holds true with reference to any other existing laws also, so why to single out
this law only.
They thus suggest that stringent safeguards avoid any kind of misuse whereas
others suggest that euthanasia should be allowed only when no amount of
palliative care can help the patient recover. In spite of these convincing
arguments, genuine concerns have been raised because of the growing evidence
that access to healthcare is shrinking; a circumstance that will only mean a
large number of those who ought to be in hospital under supervised care will be
in homes with few resources for end-of-life care and, clearly, outside the reach
of the medical system. These fears are not unfounded especially with reference
to the Western countries where the cost of medical care is severely expensive.
However, the Belgian law on Euthanasia incorporates a provision that makes it
obligatory on the state to provide terminally ill patients with painkillers so
that the patients do not end their lives because of financial constraints in
procuring medicine. With reference to poor and developing countries, such fears
cannot be allayed easily. In India it is it is argued that if denying
end-of-life treatment and care were to be considered passive euthanasia, then as
a country we have certainly been practicing it for long. It is a result of this
state of affairs that people are prompted to remark that without expanding
access to healthcare and providing end-of-life and palliative funded care,
legislating to allow euthanasia is something of a mockery.
An apprehension has been raised that Passive euthanasia will cover infants and
unborn babies by citing the example of the Netherlands, where all these acts
were legalized. It is contended that because of legalization of Euthanasia,
Netherlands has lost more than one-fourth of its population and it has badly
affected unborn babies with a high fall in birthrate in that country. For some
there is an important lesson to every country that is considering following this
proponent country and legalizing euthanasia. They argue that Euthanasia is
impracticable in India given its susceptibility, which makes it prone to misuse.
It is submitted that though the fears expressed with regard to the misuse of
euthanasia are genuine such fears largely relate to active euthanasia. In India
unlike Netherlands and Belgium, active euthanasia continues to be illegal and
looking at the court pronouncements of the past decade it would remain to be so.
Therefore the question of its misuse in India does not arise with respect to the
fears about the misuse of passive euthanasia, such fears stand largely addressed
following the directions issued by the Honorable Supreme Court in Shanbaug’s
. These directions are a sufficient safeguard to act as a check against any
misuse. However, it would be prudent for the government of India to come up with
a comprehensive legislation on permitting passive euthanasia.
It has been argued that permitting euthanasia could diminish respect for life.
Concerns have been raised that allowing euthanasia for terminally ill
individuals who request it, could result in a situation where all terminally ill
individuals would feel pressurized into availing of euthanasia. There are fears
that such individuals might begin to view themselves as a burden on their
family, friends and society or as a strain on limited healthcare resources.
Opponents of euthanasia also contend that permitting individuals to end their
lives may lead to a situation where certain groups within society e.g. the
terminally ill, severely disabled individuals or the elderly would be euthanized
as a rule . However, proponents of euthanasia argue that legalizing the practice
would not devalue life or result in pressure being put on individuals to end
their lives but would allow those with no hope of recovery to die with dignity
and without unnecessary suffering. They state that it would be imprudent not to
implement legislation because this would drive euthanasia underground where it
would be unregulated. They also raise concerns that the current legal vacuum has
led to people travelling abroad (while they are still physically able to) to
avail of euthanasia/assisted suicide before they feel they are ready to die.
Written by: Ishfaq Ahmad Shah
, School of Law University of Kashmir