April 16, 2024

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Euthanasia: is it really a right to die?

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Introduction

Euthanasia is the deliberate act of ending a person’s life to relieve suffering, usually because to a severe and incurable medical condition or terminal illness. It is a difficult and hotly discussed ethical, legal, and medical issue.

Voluntary Euthanasia happens when a competent and aware person makes a Voluntary and explicit request to end their own life, sometimes with the support of a medical practitioner.

Non-voluntary euthanasia is the practice of ending the life of a person who is unable to make decisions, such as those in a chronic vegetative state, without their explicit consent. Decisions in such instances are often made by family members or healthcare providers.

Involuntary euthanasia is the intentional termination of a person’s life, frequently without their knowledge or agreement. Most jurisdictions consider it unlawful and unethical.

Furthermore it is categorized into Active or Passive euthanasia which shall be further explained in the article.

Origin of euthanasia

The historical view of euthanasia reflects a split in opinion. Euthanasia was regarded morally legitimate by philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and the Stoics. Traditional Christian belief, on the other hand, has mainly rejected euthanasia as a violation of the Ten Commandments’ prohibition against murder.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Legalization Society (later renamed the Euthanasia Society) founded the organized movement for euthanasia legalization in England in 1935. In 1936, their proposed law was defeated in the House of Lords, as was a similar motion in 1950. The Euthanasia Society of America was founded in the United States in 1938.

While in India the idea to legalize it came with the really sad case which demanded euthanasia in India. The case of Aruna Shanbaug, she was a nurse at the  King Edward Memorial Hospital. Where she was raped by the male sweeper.

The attack occurred while she was changing clothes in the hospital basement. He choked her with a dog chain and raped her. This cut off oxygen to her brain, resulting in a brain stem contusion, cervical cord injury, and cortical blindness. She was discovered at 7:45 am the following morning by a cleaner. this incident left her in a vegetative state for about 40 years.

“Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union Of India [2011 (4) SCC 454] (Euthanasia case)”

Types of Euthanasia

There are two kinds of euthanasia that have been categorized

  • Active Euthanasia: Involves taking deliberate steps to end a person’s life, such as administering a lethal dose of medication.
  • Passive Euthanasia: Involves withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment or support, allowing the person to die naturally.

The legality and acceptance of euthanasia varies greatly around the globe. Some countries and states have laws that allow euthanasia in certain circumstances, while others consider it a criminal crime.

Autonomy, suffering, the sanctity of life, and the responsibility of medical experts in end-of-life decisions are central to the ethical and moral quandaries surrounding euthanasia.

Euthanasia in India as of now.

The act of withholding or withdrawing medical treatment, such as withholding or removing life support, with the aim of allowing a person to die is known as passive euthanasia.

In contrast, active euthanasia involves an active intervention to end a person’s life through the use of chemicals or external force, such as the administration of a lethal injection.

Legal position:

In India, euthanasia is legal. In a groundbreaking decision, the Supreme Court of India legalized passive euthanasia in 2018, ruling that it was a matter of ‘living will’.

Under some conditions, an adult may refuse medical care or freely decide not to receive medical treatment in order to embrace death in a natural way, according to the judgment.

It also established criteria for ‘living wills’ prepared by terminally ill individuals who are aware of their possibilities of entering a permanent vegetative state.

According to the court, “dignity in the process of dying is as much a part of the right to life under Article 21.” Depriving a person of dignity near the end of life deprives the person of a meaningful existence.”

The article 21 of the Indian Constitution and Article 32 of the Japanese Constitution are the same they talk about the right to life but in the Japanese constitution’s Article 31 gives certain rights to die as well.

In India there are issues of euthanasia intertwined with the religious affairs as well whose biggest case is the practise of santhara by the Jain community.

In the famous case of Nikhil Soni v. Union of India and Others (2015)

In India, Jains practice ‘Santhara’ or ‘Sallekhana,’ a form of passive euthanasia rooted in their faith. The Jain Shwetambar Sangha in Jaipur has provided facilities for Jains practicing Santhara and organized a Mahotsav for them.

However, an NGO called The Right Foundation filed a public interest writ petition against the Sangha and the Union of India, seeking to declare Santhara illegal due to alleged violations of the Constitution.

The petition also alleges that facilitating Santhara is considered criminal conduct.

The Nikhil Soni decision has significant implications, not only for the constitutional liberties of non-sectarian groups but also for the ongoing debate surrounding the right to die with dignity. Key takeaways from the judgment include:

  1. The argument that Santhara or Sallekhana is an essential religious practice of the Jain religion has not been established to exempt it from being considered a criminal offense under Section 309 IPC, 1806 (punishment for suicide) and Section 306 IPC, 1806 (punishment for abetment of suicide).
  2. Santhara or Sallekhana is deemed not to be suicide because it involves a voluntary act of giving up one’s body for salvation without violence, and it is considered a legally protected religious practice under Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution. However, these rights are subject to the principles of public order, morality, and health, with Article 21 taking precedence.
  3. The writ petition has been granted, with instructions for state authorities to cease the practice of ‘Santhara’ or ‘Sallekhana’ and categorize it as suicide, punishable under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and abetment under Section 306 of the same code. The state is directed to prohibit and outlaw ‘Santhara’ and ‘Sallekhana’ in the Jain religion, treating any related complaints as criminal matters, to be investigated by the police in accordance with the law and the Indian Constitution.

This decision sets a significant precedent regarding the legal status of ‘Santhara’ or ‘Sallekhana’ in the context of the Indian Constitution and its implications for religious practices and the right to life.

The difference between passive and active euthanasia

Active and passive euthanasia are two distinct types of ending a person’s life purposefully, but they differ in how the act is carried out and the ethical considerations involved:

Active Euthanasia: Active euthanasia is the deliberate termination of a person’s life. This frequently entails providing a deadly amount of medication or carrying out an action that directly causes the person’s death.
It is an affirmative action in which a specific intervention is undertaken to expedite death.
Ethical Considerations: Because it involves deliberately causing death, active euthanasia is often more ethically contentious and may be deemed morally immoral by some.

Passive Euthanasia:

  • Definition: Passive euthanasia, on the other hand, involves withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment or support, allowing the person to die naturally. It does not involve a direct action to end the person’s life.
  • Inaction: It involves not providing or discontinuing treatment, which allows the underlying illness or condition to progress.
  • Ethical Considerations: Passive euthanasia is often considered more ethically acceptable by some because it doesn’t involve a direct act to cause death but rather respects the natural course of the disease or condition.

Euthanasia as clinical practice in India

euthanasia remains a complex and highly debated issue in India, and its practice is not legally established as a clinical practice. In India, the legal framework surrounding euthanasia primarily revolves around two cases:

  1. Passive Euthanasia: In March 2018, the Supreme Court of India passed a landmark judgment recognizing the concept of passive euthanasia. It allowed individuals, in specific situations and under strict guidelines, to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment. This decision established the need for living wills and advanced directives, where individuals can express their wishes regarding end-of-life care.
  2. Active Euthanasia: active euthanasia, where a person intentionally takes action to end another person’s life with their consent, remains illegal in India. There have been debates and discussions about the possibility of legalizing active euthanasia in certain circumstances, but no such law had been enacted by the Indian Parliament at that time.

Difference between passive euthanasia and suicide

Passive euthanasia as of allowed in India is different from suicide on the basis of

Passive euthanasia is the intentional withholding or removal of life-sustaining treatment or medical procedures in order to allow a terminally sick or suffering individual to die naturally. The primary goal is to alleviate suffering rather than immediately cause death.

Passive euthanasia often necessitates the cooperation of medical personnel and may entail decisions to cease artificial life support, such as ventilators or feeding tubes, or to withhold certain therapies.

Consent: In cases of passive euthanasia, the decision to withhold or discontinue treatment may be taken by the patient (if competent and has voiced their wishes) or by family members or legal guardians.

Ethical Considerations: Some view passive euthanasia to be more ethically acceptable because it respects the natural course of the sickness or condition and the purpose is to alleviate suffering rather than directly cause death.

and while for suicide things are different in their own way

Suicide is defined as the purposeful taking of one’s own life. The primary goal of suicide is to willingly end one’s own life.

Suicide is an independent act in which an individual kills themselves using numerous techniques or means (such as poisoning, hanging, or self-inflicted injuries).

Suicide does not require consent or the involvement of medical personnel. It is a personal decision made by the individual, which is frequently motivated by emotional, psychological, or personal factors.

Suicide is widely regarded as a terrible and distressing event, and it involves difficult ethical and moral issues. Suicide is viewed as a mental health issue in many civilizations and cultures, and efforts are made to prevent it through intervention and support.

Conclusion

The act of ending the life of a terminally sick individual who is in excruciating agony and misery is known as euthanasia. It alleviates long-term suffering and allows people to die with dignity.

Advocates believe that it is consistent with the fundamental value of an individual’s freedom of choice and the right to live in dignity, which is established in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

They argue that since passive euthanasia is legal, active euthanasia should be legal as well, especially when patients are in excruciating pain and would prefer a painless death to prolonged suffering.

But its goal is altruistic and beneficial because it is an act of painlessly killing individuals who are suffering from terrible and incurable ailments. So the goal here is to help rather than to damage, and it shall be allowed rather than making it such a hard legal obstacle to cross when already the person is in so much agony.

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