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Introduction

Euthanasia, or the practice of ending a person's life in order to alleviate suffering, has a complex history in India. The practice has been debated for many years, with opinions on the issue divided. In the early 20th century, Indian reformers and social activists such as Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar spoke out against euthanasia, arguing that it was morally wrong and that society should instead focus on providing better care and support for the terminally ill and suffering. In the latter half of the 20th century, the topic of euthanasia began to gain more attention in India, with some advocates arguing that the practice should be legalised in certain circumstances to alleviate the suffering of the terminally ill. 

The right to die is not explicitly mentioned in the Indian Constitution. However, the Indian Supreme Court has recognized the right to die with dignity as a fundamental right, in the case of Common Cause v Union of India (2017). The court ruled that individuals have the right to make a living will, which allows them to specify their end-of-life medical treatment in the event that they become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. Additionally, the court held that passive euthanasia (withdrawing life support) is legal under certain circumstances, such as when the patient is in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery. However, active euthanasia (administering a lethal injection) is still illegal in India.

Euthanasia on a global perspective

Euthanasia, or the practice of ending a person's life in order to alleviate suffering, is a highly controversial issue with a wide range of perspectives globally. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada, euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal under certain circumstances, and are regulated by specific laws and guidelines. In these countries, euthanasia is only available to individuals who are suffering unbearably from a terminal illness or incurable condition, and have made a voluntary and well-informed request.

Other countries, such as the United States, have a patchwork of laws and regulations on euthanasia and assisted suicide, with some states allowing the practice while others criminalize it. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, euthanasia and assisted suicide remain illegal, but the law does not prosecute those who assist a person to die in certain circumstances. In some other countries, such as India, passive euthanasia is legal under certain circumstances but active euthanasia is still illegal.

Opponents of euthanasia argue that it is morally wrong and that society should instead focus on providing better care and support for the terminally ill and suffering, while advocates argue that it is a compassionate and humane option for those who are suffering unbearably and have no other options.

Importance of right to die under Indian constitution 

The right to life is an important aspect of individual autonomy and self-determination, and is considered to be a fundamental human right. The Indian Constitution, while it does not explicitly mention the right to die, has been interpreted by the Indian Supreme Court to include the right to die with dignity as a fundamental right.

Recognizing the right to die in the Constitution is important because it acknowledges that individuals have the right to make decisions about their own bodies and their own lives, even at the end of their lives. It also ensures that the government and society have an obligation to respect and protect these rights.

Furthermore, the right to die in the constitution is important in addressing the issue of end-of-life care. The right to die with dignity gives individuals the ability to make informed choices about their medical treatment in the event of terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness, which can help to alleviate suffering and ensure that medical resources are used in the most ethical and compassionate way.

In addition, the right to die with dignity can also help to combat societal prejudices and discrimination against people with terminal illnesses and disabilities, and help to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect.

The inclusion of the right to die in the Indian Constitution is important in affirming the autonomy and self-determination of individuals, as well as in protecting their rights and ensuring ethical and compassionate end of life care.

Criticism towards right to die in Indian constitution 

There are several criticisms that have been raised against the recognition of the right to die in the Indian Constitution. Some of the main criticisms include:

  • Ethical concerns: Critics argue that euthanasia and assisted suicide are morally wrong, and that recognizing the right to die in the Constitution would open the door to abuse and exploitation of vulnerable individuals.
  • Risk of misuse: Some argue that the right to die could be misused by healthcare providers, family members, or others to end the lives of individuals without their consent or against their wishes.
  • Societal implications: Some critics argue that legalizing euthanasia could have negative societal implications, such as devaluing the lives of the elderly, the disabled, or the terminally ill, and could lead to a culture of death rather than a culture of life.
  • Alternatives: Critics argue that there are other alternatives to euthanasia, such as palliative care, that can alleviate suffering without ending a person's life.
  • Legal framework: Some argue that the current legal framework for euthanasia in India is not robust enough to protect individuals from abuse and misuse, and that more comprehensive laws are needed to ensure that the right to die is exercised in an ethical and compassionate manner.
  • Religion and culture: Many religious and cultural groups in India oppose the legalization of euthanasia on the grounds that it goes against their religious beliefs, and that it is not in keeping with Indian cultural values.

While the recognition of the right to die in the Indian Constitution has been praised for affirming the autonomy and self-determination of individuals, it has also been criticized for the ethical, societal, and legal implications of legalizing euthanasia.

Landmark cases relating to right to die in Indian constitution 

There have been several landmark cases in India that have dealt with the issue of the right to die and euthanasia. Some of the most notable cases include:

  • Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996): This was one of the first major cases in India to consider the issue of euthanasia. The Indian Supreme Court ruled that the right to life does not include the right to die, and that euthanasia is not legally permissible in India.
  • Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India (2011): This case involved a nurse who had been in a vegetative state for over 40 years. The Indian Supreme Court ruled that passive euthanasia, in the form of withholding or withdrawing life support, is permissible under certain circumstances.
  • Common Cause v Union of India (2017): The Indian Supreme Court ruled that individuals have the right to make a living will, which allows them to specify their end-of-life medical treatment in the event that they become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. The court also held that passive euthanasia is legal under certain circumstances, such as when the patient is in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
  • Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu (2019): The Indian Supreme Court in this case, upheld the validity of the Advance Medical Directive of a patient suffering from cancer, and ordered the hospital to follow the directive.
  • Shanta Devi v. Union of India (2019): In this case, the Indian Supreme Court rejected the plea for passive euthanasia filed by a patient suffering from Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

These cases have played an important role in shaping the legal framework for euthanasia in India and in determining the rights of individuals to make decisions about their own medical treatment, including the right to die with dignity.

Conclusion 

Euthanasia is a complex and controversial issue. Euthanasia is not legal in India, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalizes the act of intentionally causing the death of another person. However, in the case of Common Cause v Union of India (2017), the Indian Supreme Court recognized the right to die with dignity as a fundamental right. The court also permitted passive euthanasia (withdrawing life support) under certain circumstances, such as when the patient is in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

Passive euthanasia can be carried out by withholding or withdrawing medical treatment, such as life support or artificial nutrition and hydration, from a patient who is in a permanently vegetative state or has a terminal illness with no hope of recovery. This can be done only with the permission of a high court. Active euthanasia, which involves administering a lethal injection or other means to end a person's life, is still illegal in India and is considered to be a criminal act under the IPC. The Indian government has formed a committee to examine the issue of euthanasia and make recommendations for a legal framework. The committee's report, which was released in 2012, recommended that passive euthanasia be legalised in India, under certain conditions. In India, the debate around euthanasia continues with opinions on the issue divided. There are those who argue that euthanasia should be legalised in certain circumstances to alleviate the suffering of the terminally ill, while others believe that the practice is morally wrong and that society should focus on providing better care and support for the terminally ill. Euthanasia is a very divisive topic and people tend to swing on both extremes, the right of the judiciary is to protect one’s life and euthanasia is a contrary idea.


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