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Euthanasia and Indian Criminal Law

A person has as much right to die with dignity as he has a right to live with. Euthanasia is the new concept for India which has faced a lot of debate. Euthanasia is derived from the Greek word ‘euthanatos’, which means good health. Euthanasia is different from right to die.  While euthanasia is the act of painless killing of a patient who is suffering from an incurable and painful disease or an irreversible coma, right to die is about giving every individual the right to end his life as when he wishes to do so. Therefore, both the concepts need to be treated differently in the criminal law.

Euthanasia is practised majorly to save the patient from further suffering and can be of various kinds such as:

  1. Active euthanasia: It is an act done to cause death of the patient; for instance, injecting the patient with poison or giving him excess sleeping pills.
  2. Passive euthanasia: Where the medical treatment is intentionally withdrawn from the patient, which in turn leads to death. For example, if a person is surviving only due to machines, such support is withdrawn.
  3. Voluntary euthanasia: When the patient suffering from a long illness requests the court to grant him/her the right to take his/her own life with the complete knowledge that this would lead to death.

According to the Indian criminal law euthanasia is a crime any doctor who attempts to kill a patient would be charged u/s 300 of the Indian Penal Code and would be held for culpable homicide. The attempt to legalise euthanasia began way back in 1985 with the introduction of a private bill called Varde bill in Maharashtra but the bill faced strong criticism and was taken back and could not become a law.

The judiciary has never been able to give any legal recognition to euthanasia. The Supreme Court held that “protagonism of euthanasia on the view that existence in persistent vegetative state (PVS) is not a benefit to the patient of a terminal illness being unrelated to the principle of ‘sanctity of life’ or the right to live with dignity’ is of no assistance to determine the scope of Article 21 for deciding whether the guarantee of right to life’ therein includes the right to die’. The right to life’ including the right to live with human dignity would mean the existence of such a right upto the end of natural life.” In the famous Aruna Shanbaug case, the Supreme Court rejected the plea for euthanasia, however, the Hon’ble Court framed rules, legalising passive euthanasia. While making euthanasia legal, we need to provide immunity to doctors from criminal proceedings. Also, it is important to give the patient sufficient time improve but how to decide this sufficient time is a difficult matter to decide.

Although, while looking from the perspective of the patient, one is moved by the argument that euthanasia must be legalised, however, when we look at the issue from the view of the state, the problem becomes clearer. While considering euthanasia, we are basically talking about human life and it involves various ethical issues as well. While recognising the individual’s right to end his life the difficulty of morality sets in. The state will have to deal with the jeopardy of decriminalising one set of killing as against the other and recognising euthanasia as against the right to die.

About the Author

Bhawana

Bhawana Tiwari is currently studying law at Nirma University. She is particularly interested in Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Child rights, International Humanitarian Law and Law and Governance.

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