The basic idea of this article is to throw some light upon the fact whether an individual is adept to end his/her own life or to experience willful killing. Also, to imply that whether a person with a fatal illness or disease should be allowed to end his/her own life or to opt for life-drawing out treatment. In India, the right to die was not considered a fundamental right so long as the Supreme Court had given the judgment that ‘right to life includes right to die’. As quoted by the International Herald Tribune, “Every person shall have the right to die with dignity; this right shall include the right to choose the time of one’s death and to receive medical and pharmaceutical assistance to die painlessly.
No physician, nurse or pharmacist shall be held criminally or civilly liable for assisting a person in the free exercise of this right.” This right has always been a controversial issue. From time immemorial, the right to life has been interpreted in innumerable ways to include within its ambit several new rights. Article 21 states- “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.” But, the question of whether the right to life can include the right to die within its ambit has been debated the most in several cases.
Right to die- not a fundamental right under Article 21:
The question whether the right to die is included in Article 21 of the Constitution came for consideration for the first time before the Bombay High Court in the case of State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubal. It was held that the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 includes a right to die, and thus, the Court struck down Section 309 of IPC which states the punishment for attempt to commit suicide by a person is unconstitutional. The Judges listed several circumstances in which people may wish to end their lives, including disease, cruel or unbearable condition of life, a sense of shame or disenchantment with life.
In the previous judgment, right to die was said to be included under the right to life whereas, Andhra Pradesh High Court in Chenna Jagadeeswar v. State of A.P., held that the right to die is not a fundamental right within the meaning of Article 21 and hence, Section 309 of IPC is not unconstitutional.
Again, in the famous case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court agreed with the view of the Bombay High Court in Maruti Sripati Dubal case and held that a person has a “right to die” and declared Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code as unconstitutional. The Court also held that Section 309 of the IPC was violative of Article 21 and hence it is void. However, the Court rejected the plea that euthanasia should be permitted by law.
Soon, this was also overruled in the case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab. A five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court held that right to life does not include the right to die or the right to be killed. The right to die is inherently inconsistent with the right to life as is death with life. It was further held that right to life was a natural right embodied in article 21, but suicide is unnatural termination or extinction of life and thus, ‘incompatible and inconsistent’ with the concept of the right to life.
Euthanasia term comes from the linkage of the two Greek words which are ‘EU’ and ‘Thanatos’ meaning good and death. It is hence viewed as the act of ending a person’s life of affliction and wretchedness caused because of an unrecoverable condition or a terminal sickness, through suspension of medical facilities or injection, to free the individual off of the terrible pain. It is often named as an act of purposeful taking of an individual’s life in an effortless way, which is not worth living or, mercy killing where the individual is liberated of the irremediable life state of suffering and agony.
- Active Euthanasia: It implies where the doctor can straightforwardly end a person’s life. Different names given to this procedure are, ‘Positive Euthanasia’ or ‘Aggressive Euthanasia’. The doctor may straightforwardly intercede and endorse an effortless strategy to end a person’s life. The primary component under this is the assent of the person whose sufferings are irremediable and interminable. This is a speedier strategy for passing on through a deadly and high portion of medication or by infusing a deadly medication.
- Passive Euthanasia: It is also known as ‘Negative Euthanasia’ or ‘Non-Aggressive Euthanasia’. It is the act of deliberately causing the death of a person by pulling back the fundamental consideration, food or water. It is a purposeful end which additionally infers the removal of artificial life bolster facilities. It is considered as a slow executioner and is more comfortable than the dynamic strategy. It is possibly helped when the individual no longer remains mentally and physically alert.
The debate over this issue continued amongst the people in various areas. Later, in 2011, in the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaugh v. Union of India, a five-judge bench in the Supreme Court commented the significance of the idea of euthanasia and also held that the right to life can be deciphered as the right to a life of dignity and worth. This judgment was somehow a relief to the terminally ill patients.
However, a case was filed by the NGO common cause. The same issue was re-discussed and on 9th March 2018, in the case named Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India, the Supreme Court gave the legal status to the passive euthanasia and sanctioned living will to provide extremely ill patients or those in a persistent and incurable vegetative state (PVS) an escape by denying medical facilities or life support. The judgment was delivered by a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilar, Ashok Bhushan and D Y Chandrachud.
This landmark judgment gave an option to all the individuals that if he/she ever will slip into a fatal medical condition in the future, his/her life will not be continued through a life support system. The individual concerned can likewise approve, through the will, any family member or companion to choose in consultation with medical specialists when to reassess.
The landmark verdict of 2018 by the Apex Court has paved the way for the terminally ill patients to opt for the passive euthanasia. However, concerns are still prevalent as to its misuse. It needs to be put forth before it becomes a law in the Parliament.
SOURCES: AIR 1997 SC 411  1988 CR LJ 549.  (1994) 3 SCC 394.  (1996) 2 SCC 648.  AIR 2011 SC 1290.
This blog is written by Rashi Srivastava, Amity University.
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