Euthanasia Verdict: A help or a denial

Euthanasia or so-called mercy killing has always been a moral and social dilemma since time immemorial and in 2018 it created a legal dilemma in India when the historical case of justice for Aruna Shanbaug was considered in Supreme Court.

Even in the 21st century, what makes euthanasia a hot debatable topic is that all these advancements in science have not discovered a method to create life. So, the destruction of life in any condition is questionable. The word euthanasia is derived from a Greek word EU Thanatos meaning “good or dignified death” defines the act of killing a person painlessly to relieve their suffering usually requested by a patient suffering from an incurable disease. Only When a person is in a vegetative state due to terminal illness, euthanasia is legal and many countries have declared it illegal as it deals with a very controversial topic of killing oneself. It is very important to analyze the situation in which euthanasia is asked to decide its legal validity as it is also a tool of misuse.

Euthanasia Verdict: A help or a denial


Euthanasia is mainly of 3 types: Voluntary, Involuntary and non-voluntary.

  • Voluntary Euthanasia: It is the practice of ending life with the consent of the patient. It may include voluntary refusal of food and fluid by the patient or assisted suicide by a practitioner. Voluntary euthanasia can again be classified into:
  • Involuntary euthanasia: It is conducted against the will of the patient.
  • Non-voluntary euthanasia: It occurs when the person is unconscious or unable (as in the case of children) to make a choice between life and death.

It can also be classified into active and passive euthanasia.

  • Active: Here a person deliberately causes the patient’s death. It mainly points to the use of lethal substances or forces.
  • Passive: It denotes withholding treatment necessary for the continuance of life.


42 years of darkness and plight
Aruna Shanbaug was a junior nurse in King Edward Memorial hospital in Mumbai when she was attacked by a sweeper Sohanlal Walmiki who strangled and sodomized her on 27 November 1973. Asphyxiation cut off oxygen to her brain resulting in brain stem contusion injury, cervical cord injury and cortical blindness as a result of which she was in a vegetative state for the next 42 years.

Later, her friend Pinki Virani, a journalist and activist, filed a petition in the Supreme Court arguing that the “continued existence of Aruna is in violation of her right to live in dignity”. On 7th March 2011, SC made a landmark judgment issuing a set of broad guidelines legalizing passive euthanasia in India.

Euthanasia Verdict: A help or a denial

The historic Judgement on 9th March 2018: The five-judge Constitution bench headed by former Chief Justice of India(CJI) Dipak Mishra said passive euthanasia and living will, are permissible. It said that a terminally ill patient can go for a ”living will”.

A living will is a statement that documents the preferences of a person towards being kept alive in a vegetative state or when he/ she is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Even though there were various opinions among the bench, all the judges were unanimous that the “living will” should be permitted since a person should not be made to suffer in a comatose state when they choose or wish not to live hence permitting the doctor to withdraw life support.

  • The bench was hearing a PIL filed by the Common Cause NGO and said safeguards were needed while taking a decision by medical boards in withdrawing a terminally-ill patient. The following guidelines were laid down:
  • A decision has to be taken to discontinue life support either by the parents or the spouse or other close relatives or in the absence of any of them, such a decision can be taken even by a person or a body of persons acting as a next friend. It can also be taken by the doctors attending the patient. However, the decision should be taken bona fide in the best interest of the patient.
  • Even if a decision is taken by the near relatives or doctors or next friend to withdraw life support, such a decision requires approval from the High Court concerned.
  • When such an application is filed the Chief Justice of the High Court should forthwith constitute a Bench of at least two Judges who should decide to grant approval or not.
  • A committee of three reputed doctors to be nominated by the Bench, who will give a report regarding the condition of the patient. Before giving the verdict a notice regarding the report should be given to the close relatives and the State. After hearing the parties, the High Court can give its verdict.
Euthanasia Verdict: A help or a denial

Euthanasia had always been a debatable legal dilemma. It involves the concept of individual liberty and in this century when the rights of people are considered as important as basic amenities, it is very important that a person must be able to choose whether to die or live especially when they are not in a condition to express their will in a vegetative state.

It should be noted that this might also be misused by others who would like to eliminate a person to proclaim their interests like against old or mentally ill people especially children who might become a burden to their guardians due to chronic illnesses.

Hence, the government and the medical world should prescribe exact guidelines regarding deciding the situations in which passive euthanasia can be allowed only in cases in which the patient is not left with any hope of coming out of their state of illness. A medical practitioner who is an agent of the government should also be present on the scene and a detailed medical report describing the situation should be made. It is on part of the government as executives of the Judicial provisions to ensure a fair process in this controversial issue.


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