Right to Die: A Broad Perspective
Another name for right to die, have been the most controversial topic in recent days as provided in Supreme Court judgments, in religious activities or in parliament.
Derived from the Greek word “euthanatos” meaning “good death”. To reiterate the judicial pronouncements in the Indian context, good or happy death would imply the ebbing of life the natural way.
According to oxford dictionary, Euthanasia is the “practice of intentionally ending life to relieve pain and suffering.”
Under the Indian Constitution, Right to Live have been given the highest pedestal. With Article 21 of the Indian Constitution being the most worthy right under the human rights being provided by the United Nations, various Supreme Court judgments have been in line with the United Nations in protecting it the most.
However, the problem arises when Right to Die becomes the question of the hour.
Supreme Court in the case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, particularly clarified this position and held that the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution does not include right to die. It was further clarified that although right to life includes right to live with dignity, but it cannot concur with the unnatural extinction of life, thereby curtailing the natural span of life. Another Section’s validity which Supreme Court upheld was of Section 309 IPC, thereby making attempt to suicide a punishable offence and clarifying that Right to Die is not a part of Right to Life under Article 21 of the constitution.
This position was taken further by the Supreme Court in the case of Naresh Marotrao Sakhre v. Union of India, where it was affirmed by the court that, euthanasia is nothing but homicide, no matter in what circumstances, it is being given effect to and therefore cannot be allowed as a fundamental right.
Later, in the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, Supreme Court changed its stance and held that passive euthanasia can be allowed, however, only in exceptional circumstances. The decision was based on the judgment of the UK House of Lord’s decision in the case of Airedale N.H.S Trust v. Bland, wherein it was held that the, under special circumstances, the right to life support could be lawful.
Thus, the applicability of euthanasia in itself is subject to many ambiguities. Neither the legislature not the Supreme Court have been able to clarified its stance of this subject.
In ancient times, euthanasia was considered as a term to signify “painless death”. However, its definition have completely been changed in modern times, with euthanasia being linked to suicide and furthermore, giving license to kill.
However, in modern times, the distinction between active and passive euthanasia have helped Supreme Court to a large extent in determining whether it frames the part of Right to Life or not?
Active euthanasia is to allow a person to kill someone, whereas passive euthanasia is letting the person die as per their wish.
Supreme Court in the recent landmark judgment of Common Cause v. Union of India & Anr. took help from this difference and allowed passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia being immoral and against the basic human rights, Supreme Court held that “a person in persistent vegetative state can opt for passive euthanasia, and that a person can execute a living will to refuse medical treatment in case of a terminal illness.”
Supreme Court further clarified that right to die with dignity forms an integral part of Right to Life as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, it comprehends dignity as an essential portion of the Right to Life and therefore, each individual must have the right to decide whether or not to accept medical intervention in case of terminal illness.
Supreme Court further delve into Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 6 and 7 of the ICCPR, which broaden the conceptualization of Right to Dignified Life and clarified that “the right to live with dignity includes autonomy in relation to the process of dying and choosing to not undergo pain and suffering.”
However, even the landmark judgment cannot upheld the right to die with dignity with Supreme Court imposing cumbersome procedure for passive euthanasia. Firstly, the permission of High Court is required, every time passive euthanasia is allowed. Furthermore, the procedure for actively taking out passive euthanasia requires execution of the direction in presence of two witnesses, authentication by a Judicial Magistrate, permission from two Medical Boards and a jurisdictional collector.
Passive euthanasia is only allowed in circumstances where the person is not going to survive a fatal disease. However, in the landmark Supreme Court judgment, it had make the process even more cumbersome than it already was. The broad procedure being required to be followed has made euthanasia more difficult than ever. Therefore, this only goes to show one thing that the decriminalization of euthanasia is unworkable in the Indian perspective, even on humanitarian grounds, as it involves a third person.