Euthanasia – The Mercy Killing
Meaning and types of Euthanasia
Euthanasia comes from a Greek word, where ‘Eu’ means ‘good’, and ‘Thanatos’ means ‘death’; which means Euthanasia refers to ‘good death’. It is usually referred to as deliberately ending someone’s life in order to relieve them from pain and sufferings. It is usually performed with the patients who are non-revertible vegetative state, coma or who is suffering from severe pain which might cause death of the patient. This might be carried on with the consent of the patient, his relatives/closed ones or by the will written by the patient himself. This is in cognizance with Article 21 of the constitution of India; which is ‘right to life’ and ‘right to die with dignity’ is an intrinsic facet of this fundamental right. This is made legal in some countries and some are against this practice. Many factors like local laws, someone’s physical and mental health, personal beliefs and wishes play a vital role while taking the decision of implementing, practicing and legalizing Euthanasia. There are different types of Euthanasia, and different countries have legalized particular type of Euthanasia.
Types of Euthanasia:
Euthanasia can be classified in various ways. One way is:
Here the person deliberately ends someone’s life by injecting him with some lethal drugs, so that he dies without suffering much pain.
Here the person’s life is ended by withholding or withdrawing the treatment which has to be undertaken to retain his life. The life supporting aids may be removed or the drugs which has to be given to him to maintain his life is not given.
It can also be classified on the basis of consent in the below mentioned way:
Here the person makes conscious decision to die and express his wish for the same either orally or in writing by mentioning in a will. He asks for help to do this.
When the respective person is unable to make conscious decision to die, the decision to perform euthanasia is done by a person on his behalf. They may be his loved ones, relatives, friends or care taker.
Here the person is killed without the expression of his wish or any other persons decision on his behalf, unlike the other two types. This is considered as the criminal offense of Homicide.
Overview of the Landmark case: Aruna Shanbaug v. Union Of India
Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug was working as a nurse at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital(KEM). In the year 1973, she was strangled with a dog chain around her neck and sodomised by a sweeper, Sohanlal Bhartha Valmiki, working at the same place. Due to insufficient oxygen supply to the body , during the act of strangling, Aruna went into the vegitative state or coma and remained in the same state for 37years. She was kept alive with the facilitation of feeding tube.She was treated in the same hospital where she was working. She could not move her limbs nor talk, her body couldn’t perform basic functions of human being. She lived on mashed food. On May 18, 2015, she died of severe pneumonia.
Her friend filed a prtition in Supreme Court, while she was in vegitative state, seeking Euthanasia stating that “Article 21 i.e. Right to life includes right to die with dignity”. In 1974, Valmiki was charged with attempt to murder and for robbing her earings, but not for rape. He served imprisonment for 6 years and was in custody for 1 year.
Honourable Supreme court considered the petition filed and on 9th March ruled that the individuals have ‘right to die with dignity’. It legalized passive Euthanasia, after changing the euthanasia laws. It permitted the withdrawal of life sustained treatmentfor patients who were not in a state to make informed decision.
International perspective towards Euthanasia
Laws governing Euthanasia differs from country to country around the world. The major controversy in these countries is the ethical, moral and legal issues surrounding Euthanasia. Euthanasia has been legalized in few countries to different extents.
Here option for Euthanasia is available to children of 12-16yrs of age group and for individuals above 16yrs, with the consent of their parents or gaurdians. Euthanasia is granted only when; the patient is suffering unbearably; the patient is competent and makes voluntary, intentional request for euthanasia; the only option left after all the treatment given id euthanasia; euthanasia is performed only by the doctor.
Here the option for euthanasia is only available for adults. Laws and conditions have been laid down to avoid the penal punishment for doctors.
Assisted suicide is legalized here, not euthanasia. The doctor prescribes a poison which causes death, the patient has to drink this poison himself, otherwise it is considered as homicide. Hence, Switzerland is named as “Suicide tourism”.
The practice of euthanasia is clear offense, however, many judgements have been liberal with the practice of euthanasia, with certain conditions applied; Eg:the patient must be considered competent, being aware of the circumstance. Civil rights of terminally ill also suppots euthanasia. Living wills are mainly considered while permitting euthanasia.
There are no legal norms legalizing Euthanasia, but indirectly the country has been liberal towards euthanasia particularly by penal(criminal) code and civil code; which states “If the culprit kills another person out of compassion to accelerate his unavoidable near death and thereby liberates this person from cruel pain caused by incurable illness, the court can exceptionally mitigate the sentence or can refrain from punishment”.
Passive Euthanasia is permitted for patients who have been in coma or vegitative state for more than 3 months.
By accepts the living will, it permits withholding medical treatment but doesn’t allow helping someone to kill himself.
Legalizes euthanasia. A computerised injction is used to accomplice euthanasia.
In other contries like Germany, swtzerland etc, though euthanasia is not legalized, it is comparably liberal. In Islamic countries and Egypt, they equate euthanaisia to murder. However, ot permits withholding treatment.
Euthanasia has its own pros and cons. Many humanists and religionists feel, this practice devalues sanctity of human life, acts againsst the nature rules and belive that it is only god who can take away human life. It can also have future repercussions where euthanasia can become non-voluntary, can safegaurd many murders. In some cases it is a irreversible damage where it can destroy a life which could have survived, though the doctor or family members didn’t have the knowledge of it.
When we talk about the pros of euthanasia; it prevents patients from suffering and attain peaceful death; which gives them the freedom to decide on whether to stay alive or commit suicide in order to prevent suffering. It give physical and mental relief to both the patient and their parents/gaurdians, one which is by way of preventing their investment in the patients treatment.
So having both pros and cons side, it is very much necessary for patient or their parents/gaurdians to take appropriate decision taking into consideration the surrounding circumstances.
Author: Harshini P,
IFIM LAW SCHOOL(2nd year)