In the advent of delving into what
has unfurled into one of the most controversial issues that could have
tremendous ramifications on basic ethical concepts and most importantly,
the sanctity of life…. The precious words of Thomas Jefferson strike a
"The care of human life and happiness and not
their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good
In juxtaposition, the words "Right
to Die" evoke an exactly opposite sentiment. How can it be a right if
you are using it to give up your rights? The above right has been used
as a guise or a camouflage to include various concepts that are opposed
to preservation of life. Euthanasia, Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS),
Suicide, though conceptually different, are species of the same genre.
In India, the sanctity of life has been placed on the highest pedestal.
" The right to life" under Article 21 of the Constitution has received
the widest possible interpretation under the able hands of the judiciary
and rightly so. This right is inalienable and is inherent in us. It
cannot and is not conferred upon us. This vital point seems to elude all
those who keep on clamoring for the "Right to Die".
The stance taken by the judiciary in
this regard is unquestionable.
In Gian Kaur
vs. State of Punjab, a five judge Constitutional Bench held that
the "right to life" is inherently inconsistent with the "right to die"
as is "death" with "life". In furtherance, the right to life, which
includes right to live with human dignity, would mean the existence of
such a right up to the natural end of life. It may further include
"death with dignity" but such existence should not
be confused with unnatural extinction of life curtailing natural span of
life. In progression of the above, the constitutionality of
Section 309 of the I.P.C, which makes "attempt to suicide" an offence,
was upheld, overruling the judgment in P.
The factor of immense significance
to be noted here is that suicide, euthanasia, mercy killing and the like
amount to unnatural ebbing of life. This decision thereby overruling
P.Rathinam's case establishes that the
"Right to life" not only precludes the "right to die" but also the right
P.Rathinam's case, even when a Division
bench affirmed the view in M.S Dubal v. State of
Maharashtra that the "right to life" provided by the Constitution
may be said to bring into its purview, the right not to live a forced
life, the plea that euthanasia be legalized was discarded. It was held
that as euthanasia involves the intervention of a
third person, it would indirectly amount to a person aiding or abetting
the killing of another, which would be inviting Section 306 of the I.P.C.
Marotrao Sakhre v. Union of India, Lodha J. affirmed that "Euthanasia
or mercy killing is nothing but homicide whatever the circumstances in
which it is effected."(Emphasis added).
The above inferences lead to one
irresistible conclusion i.e. any form that involves unnatural
termination of life, whether an attempt to suicide, abetment to
suicide/assisted suicide or euthanasia, is illegal.
The fact that even an attempt to suicide is
punishable goes to show the extent of credibility accorded to the
sanctity of life and the right to life as a whole. This apart,
the decriminalization of euthanasia is unworkable in the Indian
perspective, even on humanitarian grounds, as it involves a third
Though, there has been no
legislation pertaining to euthanasia in India, the term keeps on coming
back for public approval like a recurring decimal.
The implication of the term "euthanasia" is itself shrouded in
ambiguity. Derived from the Greek word "euthanatos" meaning "good
death". To reiterate the judicial pronouncements in the Indian context,
good or happy death would imply the ebbing of life the natural way.
In its earlier form, it was used as
an omnibus term to signify a painless death. In its modern context, the
term is used a deliberate euphemism to reduce the culpability of an
act". an act which is a subset of murder, by injecting the term "mercy".
The fact remains" Euthanasia/ Mercy killing is about giving license for
the right to kill.
Euthanasia is defined as an
"intentional killing by an act/ omission of person
whose life is felt is not to be worth living." The above
attribution consequentially includes just about any one who has a
suicidal impulse. Moreover the term "person" is inclusive of any and
everybody and is not solely restricted to "patients." The legalization
of the above would result in nothing but pandemonium.
There have been
views propagating the practice of passive euthanasia (letting some one
die) to be morally permissible and active euthanasia (killing someone),
morally impermissible. It is submitted that these distinctions are
irrelevant and unnecessary as t of both acts inevitably center around a
single element- an intention to kill.
The above premise
has been aptly summed up by Professor James Rachels5 who believes…. The
active and passive dichotomy is a distinction without a difference.
Proponents and "Right to die" groups
argue that, a patient in unbearable agony and excruciating pain or
"terminally ill", the saving- grace is euthanasia on compassionate
It is submitted that the problem
here is" the term "terminally ill" has no precise definition. For
instance, Jack Kervorkian, a famous proponent of euthanasia, defined
"terminal illness" as "any disease that curtails life even for a day".
Some laws define "terminal" as one from which death will occur in a
"relatively short time" or "within a span of six months".
The nub of the point is that all
these definitions scream ambiguity and medical experts have acknowledged
that it is virtually impossible to predict the life expectancy of a
euthanasia activists have dropped references to terminal illness,
replacing them with such phrases as "gentle landing", "hopelessly ill"'
desperately ill" and "meaningless life."
It is reinforced that this issue
hovers around an invaluable asset called "life". Just as a mistaken
diagnosis is possible, so is a mistaken prognosis. It must be remembered
that death is final and a chance of error too great to approve the
practice of euthanasia.
has come of age:
On the flip side of the coin, an undeniable transition is evidenced in
the augmentation of medicine and technology. What was excessive in
medicine fifty years ago may be ordinary and routine today. The idea
here is that what is excessively burdensome and offers little hope for
one may be less burdensome and more hopeful for a second patient in a
different state of health.
A startling revelation......
Research has shown that ninety-percent of the pain can be alleviated by
proper pain control methods. Appropriate care can make a huge
difference. This goes to show that medicine and technological
breakthroughs have a fitting reply to almost every problem and the
extent of medical commitment is unassailable.
In contradistinction, if every
terminal patient were prodded to a "gentle landing", impetus to
research, which is the answer to curative medicine, would be foiled. If
legalized, doctors would be forced to perform such acts against their
consent that would amount to a violation of the Hippocratic Oath.
Incidentally, it was as early as 400 B.C., when the renowned Greek
physician stipulated in his Oath ........" I will
give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such
The fact remains that the practice of euthanasia has been ostracized
since time immemorial and Oregon, Belgium and The
Netherlands are the only jurisdictions in the world where laws
specifically permit euthanasia or assisted suicide.
It may be pertinent to mention that
the most vital point is the repercussions that could take place once
something as controversial is legalized. The
matter is not an issue of force but an issue of the way laws can be
expanded once something is declared legal. In India, where abuse
of the law is the rule rather than the exception and where conniving
relatives clamor to lap up an heirloom, the abovementioned argument
holds great weight age.
To elucidate, in England, the House
of Lords in Airedale NHS Trust v. Bland
permitted non-voluntary euthanasia in case of patients in a persistent
vegetative state. Subsequently, the Supreme Court of Ireland in
Re A Ward of Court expanded the persistent
vegetative state to include cases where the patient possessed limited
In Netherlands, the Supreme Court in
a 1984 ruling held that euthanasia could be lawful only in cases of
physical illness. However, a decade down the line, the Supreme Court in
Chabot's case held that it could even extend to cases of mental illness.
Thus, there is
evidenced a conceptual degradation of the right to live with dignity.
sole qualitative argument in favor of euthanasia, is the fact that if
procedures are stringent and foolproof and with proper mechanisms in
place, then the legalization of the same could be effected in India.
For instance, in The Netherlands the request for
euthanasia should come only from the patient and be free, voluntary, and
persistent; it should be the last resort and should be performed by a
physician in consultation with an independent physician colleague who
has experience in the field.
It is humbly submitted that the implementation of the above mechanism in
India is utopian and thus the two situations incomparable.
It is ironical to note that ninety percent of the patients succumb to
death without receiving any primary health care. Thus the logical
derivation of this aspect would be that India does not have an
appropriate health-care mechanism in place, let alone foolproof
procedures for euthanasia.
In the presence of the above
bottlenecks and policing rampant in our country, the appropriate course
of action would be to develop proper "care ethics", ensuring a
"dignified existence and termination" of life. Let us augment the above
and resultantly, the concept of euthanasia will be nothing but a distant
all....... "No life that breathes with human breath has ever truly
longed for death."