EUTHANASIA – THE CONUNDRUM OF LIFE AND DEATH


INTRODUCTION

The Right to Life is the heart of the Constitution of India. It is the most organic and progressive provision in our constitution, the foundation stone of our laws. As per the definition under Article 21, it can only be claimed when a person is deprived of his “life” or “personal liberty”. Violation of the right by private individuals is not within the purview of Article 21. The Article 21 of Indian Constitution grants the Right to Life only. It does not allow the Right to Die. Right to Life, the most organic and democratic provision of our constitution has been held to be the nucleus of the Constitution.

Article 21: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

The Right to Life is expressed in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that - “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and personal security”.

The Right to Life is undoubtedly the most fundamental of all rights. Even during proclamation of emergency[1], the Right to Life that is enshrined in the fundamental rights cannot be suspended. The right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.

Whether Right to Life includes Right to Life with dignity?

If, yes then why a patient who is suffering from a lethal disease or is in a Permanent Vegetative State (PRS) has to suffer until they are dead. How can we say that a person is living with dignity, if he/she has already lost all the hope of reviving and is dependent on their acquaintances for all that their needs? The only option left in the case remains Euthanasia.

The question about the Right to Die arose for the first time in Maharashtra v. Maruty Sripati Dubal. The court declared that the Right to Life includes the Right to Die. This judgement, by the Bombay High Court contradicted with Section 309 of IPC. Hence, Section 309 was held unconstitutional. On the contrary, the Supreme Court of India in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab held that Right to Life does not include “Right to Die” or “Right to be Killed”.

It was only after the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India that the Supreme Court in its judgment declared that Passive Euthanasia is legal in India.


THE CONCEPT OF RIGHT TO LIFE

In discussions on topics of capital punishment, war, abortion, euthanasia, justifiable homicide and public health care, the definition of the Right to Life emerges. The scope of Article 21 has been explained by the Supreme Court in the case of Unni Krishnan, which provided the list of some of the rights covered under Article 21 based on earlier pronouncements. The Supreme Court also included many of the non-justifiable Directive Principles embodied under part IV of the Constitution.

In the case of Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration[2], the Supreme Court observed that the “right to life” included the right to lead a healthy life to enjoy all facilities of the human body in their prime conditions. It will also include the right to preserve the tradition, culture, heritage and all that gives meaning to the life of a man. It covers the right to live in peace, the right to sleep in peace, the right to rest and to health.

The Supreme Court in Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh[3] quoted, “By the term ‘life’ as here used something more is meant than mere animal existence. All those limbs and services in which life is enjoyed expand the inhibition toward its deprivation. Similarly, the law forbids the mutilation of the body by the amputation of the armour leg or the pulling out of the eye or the removal of some other body organ by which the soul interacts with the outside world.


RIGHT TO LIFE WITH DIGNITY

Human dignity is related to individual life and to the basic rights of constitutional jurisprudence. Dignity signifies the display of honour and particular personal merits. The definition of human dignity is related to the defence from abuse and violations of inalienable rights. The word human dignity is widely used to defend an individual's status and honour, without that person being unable to survive on earth.

The Article 21 gives a constitutional importance of rights to every citizen. Justice Krishna Iyer has stated that, Article 21 is characterised as protective of life and liberty and corresponds to the Magna Carta[4] case. The Magna Carta became the first text to proclaim that the crown had civil rights and that the king should be bound by the constitution, giving all men legal rights.

A new dimensional approach towards Article 21 was established in the case of Maneka Gandhi by the Supreme Court.

Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[5]

“The right to live is not merely a physical right but includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity.”

The Supreme Court amplified the horizon of the aforementioned view in the case of Francis Coralie v. Union Territory of Delhi[6], where it stated that the right to live requires the right to live with human dignity and all that goes with it, that is, the bare necessities of life


RIGHT TO DIE

Article 21 gives a person the right to live a dignified life. Does it also confer a right not to live or a right to die if a person chooses to end his life? If so, what is the fate of Section 309[7] of Indian Penal Code, 1860 that punishes a person convicted of attempting to commit suicide?

The question about the right to die arose for the first time in the case of Maharashtra v. Maruty Sripati Dubal[8] , where the Bombay High Court held that the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 includes right to die, and the Hon’ble High Court struck down Section 309 of Indian Penal Code that provides punishment for attempt to commit suicide by a person as unconstitutional.

In P. Rathinam v. Union of India[9], A two-judge Supreme Court Division Bench took cognizance of the relationship/contradiction between Section 309 of Indian Penal Code, and Article 21. In support of the decision of the High Court of Bombay in the case of Maruti Sripati Dubal, the Court held that the right to life was also reflected in Article 21 by the right not to live a forced life, to its detriment or disadvantage. The court argued that, in Article 21, the word life implies the right to live with human dignity and that it does not merely imply continued drudgery. Thus, the court concluded that the right to live of which Article 21 speaks of could be said to bring in its trail the right not to live a forced life. The court further stressed, "The attempt to commit suicide is in fact a plea for help rather than punishment."

In a writ petition filed in the Supreme Court of India, Common Cause vs Union of India[10], it was again established that euthanasia in its passive form is allowed. The Supreme Court of India also laid down the foundation of “Living Will”. Living will is a written document that allows a patient to give clear advance guidance about the medical care to be offered when he or she is terminally ill or can no longer give informed consent. "Quoting the Supreme Court, "A thinking adult human being is entitled to reject medical treatment entirely or to decide not to take medical treatment and can decide not to take medical treatment to embrace the death in natural way.”


EUTHANASIA AND RIGHT TO DIE

At the express request of the individual who wishes to die, the term Euthanasia implies a deliberate termination of life by another human. Euthanasia is defined as the act of killing an incurably ill individual out of respect and consideration for the suffering of that person.

Euthanasia, according to Black's Law Dictionary, means "the act or practice of killing or causing the death of a person suffering from an incurable illness or condition, in particular" a painful one, for reasons of mercy.”

The definition of Euthanasia suggests that it is a practising of relieving a person from pain & suffering due to a lethal & incurable disease by providing him death. Euthanasia has been classified into two categories: Active Euthanasia & Passive Euthanasia.

Active euthanasia requires the use of lethal drugs or forces to kill a person given to a person with terminal cancer who is in terrible pain, such as with lethal injection. Passive euthanasia means withholding medical care for the continuity of life, such as withholding antibiotics from a coma patient, where a patient is likely to die without giving it, or removing the heart lung machine.

The Supreme Court had made a clear distinction between Active and Passive Euthanasia in Aruna Shanbaug case. In Active euthanasia, death is brought about an act, e.g. Injecting a toxic agent into the patient like sodium pentothal which in a few seconds allows the person to go into deep sleep and the person dies painlessly in sleep, so it amounts to killing a person by a good act in order to end a person's suffering in a terminal disease state. It is considered a crime all over the world except where permitted by legislation. In India too, active euthanasia is illegal and a crime under Section 302 or 304 of the Indian Penal Code. Physician assisted suicide is a crime under Section 306 of Indian Penal Code, i.e. abetment to suicide.

Passive euthanasia involves withholding of medical treatment or withholding life support system for continuance of life e.g., withholding of antibiotic where without doing it, the patient is likely to die or removing the heart-lung machine from a comatose patient. Also without regulation, passive euthanasia is legal if certain requirements and protections are upheld. As noted by the Supreme Court, the key point of difference between active and passive euthanasia is that something is done to end the life of the patient in active euthanasia, while something is not done in passive euthanasia that would have maintained the life of the patient.

"In passive euthanasia, to quote the words of the learned judge in Aruna's case, "the doctors are not deliberately killing anyone; they are clearly not saving him. The Court stated, "While we typically applaud someone who saves the life of another human, we usually do not condemn someone for failing to do so. out that according to the proponents of Euthanasia, while we can debate whether active euthanasia should be legal, there couldn’t be any doubt about passive euthanasia, as “You cannot prosecute someone for failing to save a life.”


CONCLUSION

The Supreme Court allowed passive euthanasia by virtue of ‘living will’ and interpreted Right to die with dignity as a Fundamental Right under Right to Life only. However, no one in this world can guarantee that a law cannot be abused. The relief provided under Euthanasia by the Supreme Court can also be used in a mala fide pretext. An particularly dangerous feature is that it is possible to make such violence undetectable. Though, Euthanasia seems to be morally justifiable yet its practicality is still under doubt.

Justice Markanday Katju quoted Mirza Ghalib while stating his judgement of 141 pages in euthanasia plea for Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug, a sexual assault victim lying in a vegetative state in a Mumbai hospital for over four decades.

“Marte hain aarzoo mein marne ki, Maut aati hai par nahin aati”

Mirza Ghalib


One die longing for death but death, despite being around, is elusive.

(Translation)


References

  1. Constitution of India, Article 352.

  2. Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration 1980 AIR 1579, 1980 SCR (2) 557

  3. Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh 1963 AIR 1295, 1964 SCR (1) 332

  4. Magna Carta is famous as a symbol of justice, fairness, and human rights.

  5. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621

  6. Francis Coralie v. Union Territory of Delhi 1981 AIR 746, 1981 SCR (2) 516

  7. Attempt to commit suicide

  8. Maharashtra v. Maruty Sripati Dubal 1987 Cri LJ 743

  9. P. Rathinam v. Union of India 1994 AIR 1844, 1994 SCC (3) 394

  10. Common Cause v. Union of India WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 215 OF 2005


Author 1 -ASAD ZAHIDI

4 TH Year, B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) CHANAKYA NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, PATNA

Author 2- MOHAMMAD ATIF AHMAD

5 TH Year, B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) DELHI METROPOLITAN EDUCATION, GURU GOBIND

SINGH INDRAPRASTHA UNIVERSITY, NEW DELHI

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