The implication of the term “euthanasia” is itself shrouded in ambiguity. Derived from the Greek word “euthanatos” connotes “good death”. To reiterate the judicial pronouncements in the Indian context, good or happy death would imply the ebbing of life the natural way. Euthanasia is defined as an “intentional killing by an act/ omission of person whose life is felt is not to be worth living.” In the given context “Person” includes not necessarily the patient but even a medical practitioner assisting in the process.
On the very aspect “Right to die” brings in juxtaposition and an opposite sense that how can it be a right if you are using it to give away all your rights? The right to die is used as a guise to support those concepts which are against the preservation of life. Euthanasia and suicide though are different conceptually but are species of the same genre. The apex court of India through a five judge constitutional bench in Gian Kaur v State of Punjab held that “right to life” is inherently inconsistent with the “right to die” as is “death” with “life”. Article 21 of Constitution of India which includes right to live with human dignity does not connotes curtailment of the natural span of life in case the required dignity is absent. It only includes a dignified sustenance of life not an end to it, though it may be furthered to mean “a dignified death” but not unnatural extinction of human life
In M.S Dubal v. State of Maharashtra SC said that the “right to life” provided by the Constitution may be said to bring into its purview, the right not to live a forced life, the plea that euthanasia be legalized was discarded. It was held that as euthanasia involves the intervention of a third person, it would indirectly amount to a person aiding or abetting the killing of another, which would be inviting Section 306 of the I.P.C. Any form that involves unnatural termination of human life should be regarded as illegal. The fact that even an attempt to suicide is punishable in India goes to show the extent of credibility accorded to the sanctity of life and the right to life as a whole.
Now, even if we consider the aspects of “right to die” it brings with it a sense of ambiguity. The phrase “terminally ill” has no precise definition and its ambit cannot be clearly identified. Medical experts have acknowledged that it is virtually impossible to predict the life expectancy of a particular individual. According to the oxford English dictionary “terminally ill” means “Persons with an incurable or irreversible illness at the end stage that will result in death within a short time” so if the death will take place in a “short time” then why should human indulgence be used for the furtherance of it. Moreover, the Hippocratic oath taken by medical practitioners calls for nursing, care giving and healing but not for ending the life of a patient. It is also a right argument that if we are not able to give a life to anyone that why should we be given a right to take it? Thus, instead of encouraging a patient to end his life, the medical practitioners should encourage the patients to lead their painful life with strength which should be moral as well as physical.
Blackstone’s dictionary defines homicide as “killing of a human” so in this sense no difference remains between homicide and euthanasia. Since in cases of euthanasia or mercy killing there is an intention on the part of the doctor to kill the patient, such cases would clearly fall under clause first of Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. However, as in such cases there is the valid consent of the deceased Exception 5 to the said Section would be attracted and the doctor or mercy killer would be punishable under Section 304 for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. On the other hand, the chances of the legalization being misused are also very high. What if the patient is in coma and is unable to make a decision, should the relatives be allowed to make it? This is the era of family disputes over property and money. People could also get away with cold-blooded murder. Legalizing voluntary Euthanasia would lead to involuntary euthanasia. Euthanasia could be legalized, but the laws would have to be very stringent. Every case will have to be carefully monitored taking into consideration the point of views of the patient, the relatives and the doctors. But whether Indian society is mature enough to face this, after all it’s a matter of life and death, is yet to be seen.
It is feared that placing the discretion in the hands of the doctor would be placing too much power in his hands and he may misuse such power. This fear stems largely from the fact that the discretionary power is placed in the hands of non-judicial personnel (a doctor in this case). This is so because we do not shirk from placing the same kind of power in the hands of a judge (for example, when we give the judge the power to decide whether to award a death sentence or a sentence of imprisonment for life). But what is surprising is that the fear is of the very person (the doctor) in whose hands we would otherwise not be afraid of placing our lives. A doctor with a scalpel in his hands is acceptable but not a doctor with a fatal injection.
Life is a gift, and even a life of pain is a life at least. Some people feel we don’t choose when to be born and we should not be given the right to choose when to die. On the contrary, others feel that a life of pain is not a life but an imposition and we should be at least allowed to end it in a dignified peaceful manner. Euthanasia could be legalized, but the laws would have to be very stringent. Every case will have to be carefully monitored taking into consideration the point of views of the patient, the relatives and the doctors. But whether Indian society is mature enough to face this, after all it’s a matter of life and death, is yet to be seen.
“No life that breaths with human breath has ever truly longed for death”