Euthanasia: Is it a question of right to life or a life with dignity?

What is Euthanasia?

Merriam-Webster defines Euthanasia as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (such as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy”.

Forms of Euthanasia and it’s legality

There are various forms of euthanasia: active and passive, voluntary and involuntary, indirect, assisted suicide.

Active euthanasia is when death is brought about by an act – for e.g., when a person is killed by being given an overdose of pain-killers. Currently, it is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, and Canada.

Passive euthanasia is when death is brought about by an omission – i.e. when someone lets the person die. This can be by withdrawing (for e.g. switching off a machine that is keeping a person alive, so that they die of their disease) or withholding treatment (for e.g. not carrying out surgery that will extend life for a short time)

Euthanasia: Is it a question of right to life or a life with dignity?

Voluntary euthanasia occurs at the request of the person who dies whereas non-voluntary euthanasia occurs when the person is unconscious or otherwise unable (for e.g. a very young baby or a lunatic person) to make a meaningful choice between living and dying, and an appropriate person takes the decision on their behalf. Voluntary euthanasia is legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and the states of Oregon and Washington in the U.S.

Indirect euthanasia is when a person is provided treatment, possibly for reducing pain that has the side effect of speeding the patient’s death.

Assisted suicide refers to cases where the person who is planning to die needs help to kill themselves and asks for it. The consensus doesn’t matter, the act might be as small as providing the required drugs or even referring the seller. As of 2018, assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Montana, Washington, D.C., Maine, New Jersey and California.

Euthanasia and the Indian Judiciary system

India allows passive euthanasia, also known as mercy killing but only under specific circumstances after evaluating the situation of the patient and his/her family. The question of ‘Right to life’ also arises when the concept of euthanasia comes up and whether killing a person or allowing someone to do so violates the victim’s right to life.

Euthanasia: Is it a question of right to life or a life with dignity?

There have been various cases that have arisen before the court of law as to whether euthanasia should be permitted or not. Some of the major cases include Aruna Ramchandra Shaunbaug V. Union of India (2011), Mr. Narayan and Mrs. Iravati Lavate, Dennis Kumar from the state of Tamil Nadu, Jeet Narayan of Mirzapur, etc.

The Aruna Shanbaug case:

The most prominent case of all time has been the case of Aruna Shanbaug, in this case the victim, a nurse at the KEM hospital, Mumbai was strangled with a chain and sodomised by a sweeper of the same hospital in the year 1973. The attack left her deprived of oxygen which later left her in a vegetative state till she died. She was treated in KEM since the incident and kept alive by feeding tube. She passed away in the year 2015 after being in a vegetative state for 42 years, the reason for her death was pneumonia.

A social activist, on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug filed for passive euthanasia arguing that being in coma forever was a violation of her right to live with dignity and that there be an end to her suffering. But the bench ended up rejecting her plea in the year 2011 and also laid down a set of rules and regulations regarding euthanasia.

Euthanasia: Is it a question of right to life or a life with dignity?

Other cases on Euthanasia

One such case for plea of active euthanasia was of an elderly couple- Mr. Narayan and Mrs. Iravati Lavate, who are residents of Mumbai and they wrote to the president of India regarding the same. They stated that it should be the right of all citizens above the age of 75 to ask for active euthanasia and that they shouldn’t have to suffer with the complications of old age. The court in this case rejected their plea for the same.

In another case, Dennis Kumar, a resident of the district of Kanyakumari asked permission from the district collector to grant euthanasia for his infant son who was suffering from an unknown disease since birth. Unable to bear the expenses for his treatment or see his son’s suffering, Kumar asked permission to give euthanasia, which would relieve both his son and him of their adversity. However, the court rejected the plea in 2008.

The president of India, Pratibha Patil rejected the plea of Jeet Narayan of Mirzapur, who had pleaded for euthanasia for his four sons of the ages 22, 18, 13 and 10 respectively, who were all paralyzed below the neck and were confined to bed. He had written to her in the year 2008.

Back in the year 2003, an acid attack victim had filed for euthanasia after the attack had left her partially deaf, almost blind and with burnt skin all over her face, eyes and nose. She asked the government to either grant her euthanasia or allow her fund for skin reconstructive surgery, the court rejected both her pleas.


In my opinion, the judicial system seems to lack compassion towards the people pleading for euthanasia, be it active or passive and that it’s high time they take steps to help these people and properly assist whether euthanasia can be granted or not after carefully assessing not just the victim but also his/her family’s condition and the environment in which the victim is.

And if not euthanasia, then provide those in need with assistance regarding other alternatives such as monetary relief for the treatment process or regarding healthcare amenities to the victims, etc. There doesn’t need to be a de facto allowance of euthanasia but the conditions and the factors be considered thoroughly before rejecting the pleas of those suffering.

Taruni Lakkaraju

Just another one of those law aspirants who can't keep a pen away from the paper for too long, always hoping that their love for writing and their compassion for law will result in something beautiful. Currently pursuing second year of LLB from the prestigious Government Law College, Mumbai.
View Profile View All Posts