IS EUTHANASIA LEGAL IN INDIA?
Written By – Sruthi Sadhasivam
WHAT IS EUTHANASIA?
Euthanasia is taking away the life of a person in good faith with no intention to harm the person. Euthanasia or mercy killing is a medical procedure which involves placing a terminally ill individual to a painless death when chances of survival of the latter is zero or minimal. It is administered on a person with or without the consent of the latter when he/she/they find it difficult to survive due to severe illness and when medical personnel testifies that there is no chance of curing the person.
Euthanasia can be active, passive, voluntary and involuntary. Active euthanasia involves administering an external agent like lethal injection into a critically ill person who has no chance of survival to end the life faster, make death less painful and free the person from all agonies. Passive euthanasia involves eliminating all means of survival such as stalling the food and water, removing the life support systems to ensure a peaceful natural death. Voluntary euthanasia is administered when the critically ill person orally or in written asks for terminating his/her/their life to free themselves from the sufferings. Involuntary euthanasia is administered in cases where the person has a will to live or their consent in this matter was not obtained thereby it amounts to homicide or murder. Non-voluntary euthanasia is administered to a critically ill person who is incompetent to give consent due to being in conditions such as coma, brain-dead etc thereby an appropriate person takes the decision on behalf of the patient.
WHAT DOES THE COURT SAY ON EUTHANASIA?
Euthanasia is legal in countries like Belgium, Canada, Columbia, Luxembourg, Australia, USA etc while Spain was the recent State to legalise euthanasia in 2021.
In India, we do not have a separate legislation to deal with the euthanasia conundrum, and the 2011 judgement is used as the basic guideline to handle mercy killing cases. Thereby, In India, passive euthanasia is legal. The Treatment of Terminally ill Patients Bill is a draft euthanasia bill that was introduced after Aruna Shanbaug case judgement (2011) but is yet to be passed as a legislative act in the parliament.
Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug, a nurse was sodomized and molested by a ward boy in a brutal manner. This left her paralysed, deaf, blind and in a vegetative state for 42 years. Later, in 2015 Shanbaug who was 66 years old succumbed to death due to severe pneumonia. In 2007, Journalist Pinki Virani filed a writ petition to legalise mercy killing which would help relieve Aruna of her sufferings. The court set up a medical committee to examine the physical condition of Aruna and the 3-doctor panel reported that Aruna was not brain dead and opposed euthanasia for her. Thereby, the court turned down the journalist plea, but it laid down the basic guidelines under which passive euthanasia can be administered. The court declared that Right to die is contended to be inseparable from right to life with dignity (article21). Thereby passive euthanasia although not lawful was allowed in exceptional circumstances.
Recently in January 2020, a petitioner, Anjali Gopalan who is the Managing Trustee of the NGO ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ had approached the Supreme court to get approval to administer active euthanasia on Rabies affected patients as it’s an incurable ailment. Additionally, in some exceptional cases, the already suffering individual will have to be tied up to the bed due to the violent nature of the disease thereby violating the individual’s right to movement, freedom and the right to live with dignity. The 2018 judgement excluded patients suffering from rabies to access the right to euthanasia. The petitioner claimed that passive euthanasia cannot be administered on the rabies affected individuals due to lack of medical resources to prolong the life of the patients. Thereby, active euthanasia is the only option. As of now, the Supreme court has sought the central government response to the PIL that was filed.
When it comes to euthanasia, we talk only in terms of human beings but in India we even have a separate section in the prevention of cruelty to animals act that delves on animal euthanasia. Section 13 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1961 legalises animal euthanasia under certain circumstances such as when the owner of the animal is convicted for being cruel to the animal under section 11 of the act and if the court believes that keeping such an injured animal would cause it to undergo severe hardship, euthanasia can be administered.
IS EUTHANASIA THE RIGHT THING TO DO?
There is always a constant fear that this right to take other’s life in good faith will be misused.
The Indian case law only talks in terms of the patient’s right to die with dignity and the right to liberation from insurmountable pain and agony and trivialises or even excludes the psychological state of doctors who administer euthanasia on the patients.
Lastly, while there is wide range of procedures involved in administering euthanasia on a human being, animals have no such stringent procedures. At times, in occasions where an animal is severely injured and it is incurable, the court becomes the sole authority to decide whether the animal gets to live, not even its parent. Moreover, due to lack of stringent laws on animal cruelty and public negligence it becomes extremely easier to administer euthanasia on animals. Most of the animal cruelty cases go unreported and perpetrators are under punished. Nonetheless, just like how torturing an animal is cruel, making it forcefully live in suffering when knowing its present physical ailment has no cure is equally cruel. Thereby, in such dreadful cases it is vital to put down the animal to relive it from enduring agony.
On the whole, every living thing has the right to die with dignity just like how everyone has the right to live with dignity. Thereby euthanasia becomes imperative, but this dangerous right needs to be exercised with responsibility and sensitivity.