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
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
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.
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.
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
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