Euthanasia Case Study



Black's Law Dictionary defines euthanasia as "the act or practice of killing or bringing about the death of a person who suffers from an incurable disease or condition, especially, a painful one, for reason of mercy."

The word euthanasia has originated from Greek words 'eu' and 'thantos' which means 'easy death' or 'good death'.

Euthanasia and suicide are different. When a person ends his life by his own act, it is said to be suicide. Ending a person's life by others on request of the person is euthanasia. Euthanasia is for those who have become incapacitated or terminally ill and do not want to suffer with such disease through rest of their lives. Euthanasia or mercy killing is one such process through which a person is allowed on request of others to end his/her life.

There are several types of Euthanasia.

Active Euthanasia-This process involves ending one's life painlessly for merciful reasons by administering a lethal dose of medication.

Passive Euthanasia-This is a process, where the treatment or life support system is removed and the patient dies because of such act. Here, the patient is not killed by administration of a lethal dose of any drug but simply not saved, e.g., by removing life supporting devices, etc.

Voluntary Euthanasia- This is a process where there is express consent of the patient to end his/her life.

Involuntary Euthanasia-In this process, patient is allowed to die without the patient?s express consent or wish.

Non-voluntary Euthanasia-In this process, a person who is not in control of his mental senses, (e.g., comatose patients) is allowed to die at the request of his family members.

Evolution of Euthanasia in India

Commentaries from ManuSmriti says that a man may undertake the mahaprastha (great departure) on a journey that ends in death when he is incurably diseased or meets with a great misfortune, and if, it is not opposed to Vedic rules which forbid suicide.

Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides that everyone has a fundamental right to life.

In State of Maharashtra v. Maruty Sripati Dubal, 1987 Cr LJ 549, for the first time the question arose whether right to life includes right to die. The Bombay High Court held that right to life under Art. 21 includes the right to die and struck down Section 309 of Indian Penal Code (which deals with punishment for attempt to commit suicide by a person) stating it as unconstitutional.

This was the first case where euthanasia was discussed.

However, later on in ChennaJagadeeswar v. State of A.P., 1988 Cr LJ 549, Andhra Pradesh High Court held that the right to die is not a fundamental right within the ambit of Art. 21 and hence Section 309 is not unconstitutional. This led to the controversy over mercy killing as well.

Later in P. Rathinam v. Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 394, Supreme Court Division Bench supported State of Maharashtra v. MarutySripatiDubal, 1987 Cr LJ 549judgement and held Section 309 as unconstitutional. The Court said that right to life includes the right not to live a forced life. But the Court rejected the plea that euthanasia should be permitted by law.

In Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, 1996(2) SCC 648, the Court had not ruled on the validity of active or passive Euthanasia, even though it had ruled that the right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution of India was inclusive of the right to die with dignity.

The Supreme Court in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, 2011 (3) SCALE 298, ruled that passive euthanasia can be made lawful only by legislation and allowed passive euthanasia by withdrawing the life support and other  treatment of the patient who was living in a permanent vegetative state.

After the judgement of Aruna Shanbaug, the 241st report of the Law Commission of India on Passive Euthanasia was also recognized, but no law has been enacted yet.

The Supreme Court in Common Cause (A Regd. Society) v. Union of India and Another vide its judgement dated 09/03/2018, has now given recognition and sanction to passive euthanasia and living will or advance directive.

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