Legalising Euthanasia in India

This article has been written by Soma Sarkar. Soma is currently a second-year student at Chanakya National Law University.

“Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed-else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.”

We, the citizens of the country have the freedom to put on the apparel which we like, move about freely in the country, choose our own life partners, follow any religious faith, get admitted in the University of our choice, take up the job that is pleasing to us, right to freedom of speech and expression and of course the right to lead our life on our own conditions. Then why is it that we are debarred from loosing our lives? According to Article 21, a person has the right to live a dignified life. So simultaneously “Right to die” should also gain ground. To all intents and purposes it is the death that marks the end of the process though the right to life may be howsoever important. This fact cannot fall on stony ground. If death is an integral part of life, should the individual’s decision to die, its time and manner, be protected from state intrusion? However the former would contradict the provision of IPC under sec 309 which reads “Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act toward the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year [or with fine, or with both]”. Lives of men not only form the upper strata but is also valuable to the State. This power has been questioned on grounds of morality as well as constitutionality.

     Right to life and personal liberty is in fact the most cherished and the pivotal fundamental human rights forming the backbone of all other rights bestowed upon the civilians of our country. Article 21 is the celebrity provision of the Constitution of India and has received the widest possible interpretation under the able hands of the judiciary and rightly so. The interpretation of this article in Maneka Gandhi’s case has ushered a new era of expansion of the horizons of the same. It is nothing but modern form of what has been known to us since ages as natural right. ‘Life’ here not only connotes the physical act of breathing or leading a dog’s life. Rather it includes the right to live with human dignity, right to livelihood, right to health, right to pollution free air etc in its purview.

 “Right to die” this term has misled every inch of the population. The general perception is that one can die with dignity. Yes, dignity but what kind of dignity is it? Most of the people are in the dark. It’s high time to clarify their misconception. It does not refer to any general right of able-bodied and healthy people to commit suicide. It is related to typical issues concerning physician-assisted suicide (passive euthanasia). The question whether and under what circumstances, an individual whose illness is incapacitating will be allowed to die or be assisted in dying is on the horns of dilemma.

Mental health bill 2013 and the 210th law commission report argued for making section 309 a dead letter. They were of the opinion that one who attempts suicide requires medical and psychiatric care rather than punishment.

 “Right to die” sought the attention of the Indians with State v Sanjay Kumar wherein, Delhi High Court criticized section 309 of IPC as ‘an anachronism and a paradox’. There were two set of cases: Maruti Sripati Dubal v State of Maharashtra and Chhena Jagadesswar v State of Andhra Pradesh, the judgment of these two cases were at logger heads. Controversy arose regarding the validity of Section 309. In the former case the Bombay High Court struck down the above section on grounds that it violates the right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Consitution of India while the latter held it constitutionally valid. In P. Rathinam v Union of India and another the court overruled Chhena Jagadesswar v State of Andhra Pradesh and held that, Section 309 of IPC deserves to be effacted from the statute book to humanize our panel. Standing to reason such provision is stone hearted and irrational and it may result in punishing a person twice. Firstly as he has suffered agony and secondly undergoing ignominy because of his failure to commit suicide. This kind of attempt causes no harm to other members of the society and so going by the rule of thumb the State’s interference is needless. Therefore, Section 309 violates Article 21 thereby void. Smt. Gian kaur v State of Punjab was the next landmark case that came in the lime light. Right to life is exclusive of right to die or right to be killed. The former is a natural right while suicide is unnatural termination or extinction of life and so incompatible with being inconsistent with the concept of right to life. Existence of such a right up to the end of natural life is the acid test of the right to life including the right to live with dignity. What forms the core element is dignified procedure of death.

However, passive euthanasia is one such issue that holds legal validity under this umbrella term on account of that these are not cases of extinguishing life but acts as a catalyst only for accelerating conclusions for the commencement of natural death that is already on cards meaning thereby that right to die with dignity is inclusive of right to live with dignity.

Aruna Ramchandra Shaunbaug v Union of India has not faded from our mind’s eye. A request was made to the court to stop giving food and water to this 59 year old woman who was in permanent vegetative state thereafter this ‘right to die’ is no more trembling or hanging in balance.

    Just the chance to be alive on this earth and play a part in the grand scheme of god’s eternal plan is a privilege indeed. Life is the most precious gift that the Almighty has given. Sanctity of life has won laurels all over the world. The belief that because people are made in God’s image, human life has an inherently sacred attribute that should be protected and respected at all times. Humanity is comparatively more sacred than the rest of the creation. In spite of knowing these we leave no stone unturned to disappear from the sight of the world. Is it the same that is expected from us? Is death the solution of all the problems that we encounter? What would happen to the greatest wealth of India – its manpower if the Court approves it? We would be loosing our treasure for which India is known. Demanding death is the act of a coward. Why to be chicken hearted and not martyr?  ‘Right to die’ may sometimes dress itself as ‘Duty to die.’  Think of a man who is on bread line and works all round the clock to earn his living. When he grows old and is incapable of sharing the burden of his son along with the expenses incurred upon him, would his duty be to end his life in order to raise his family from utter penury because it would reduce the expenditure to a certain extent? Moreover legalizing right to die for the hoi polloi would pour cold water on palliative care and medical research. Besides these, people from neighboring constituencies would be visiting our country. Not as tourists but with the motive to take undue advantage of this right i.e. the decisions that one country takes has an impact on the surrounding nations equally. Medical ethics is a strong opponent of ‘Right to die’.  Has India made a record in having no suicidal cases? No, not at all. We have the ones committing suicide despite of knowing the fact that it bears no legal validity. In any case not legalizing right to die wouldn’t prevent masses to take the law into their own hands.

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