WHAT IS EUTHANASIA?
The word Euthanasia originiates from the Greek words: Eu (good) and Thanatos (death) and it means “Good Death”, “Gentle and Easy Death.” It is also known as Mercy killing. It was first used in a medical context by Francis Bacon in the 17th century, to refer to an easy, painless, happy death, during which it was a “physician’s responsibility to alleviate the ‘physical sufferings’ of the body”.
According to the World Medical Association Euthanasia means:
Deliberate and intentional action with a clear intention to end another person’s life under the following conditions: The subject is a competent informed person with incurable illness. Who voluntarily asked for ending his life. The person who is acting knows about the state of this person and about his wish to die and is doing this action with an intention to end life of this person. The action is done with compassion and without any personal profit.
TYPES OF EUTHANASIA
Following are the types of euthanasia:-
- Passive or Negative euthanasia means the withdrawal of necessary medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient is a must. In order for the death to be voluntary, the medicines which aids in saving lives will be discontinued so that death is brought about voluntarily. A common practice of this is a patient signing a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) document. It implies discontinuing or not using extraordinary life sustaining measures to prolong life. Others include act of omission such as failure to resuscitate a terminally ill or incapacitated patient (e.g. a severely defective new-born infant).
2. Active or Direct euthanasia means when one induces death by giving or providing medication or treatment leading to death.
3. Voluntary Euthanasia, sometimes called “assisted suicide”, is used in cases where the sufferer has made it clear that s/he wishes to die and has requested help to bring this about. When the euthanasia is practiced with the expressed desire and consent of the person concerned
4. Involuntary Euthanasia is one which is conducted without the consent and where an individual makes a decision for another person who is incapable of doing so. E.g. prolonged comma, old age, etc. It occurs when no consent or wish to die is expressed by the sufferer. When the euthanasia is practiced against the will of the person and also involuntary Euthanasia is one where patients can express a wish to die but don’t (this equates to murder).
5. Non- Voluntary Euthanasia is one where patients cannot express a wish to die. Patients who are in comas, infants, profound mentally retarded, severely brain damaged, cases of extreme senile dementia, those who cannot communicate for other reasons.
LEGAL VALIDITY IN INDIA
Passive euthanasia is legal in India. As per the 2018 ruling, The Supreme Court has held that the right to die with dignity is a fundamental right.
WHAT IS THE LEGAL POSITION AND TRENDS OF EUTHANASIA IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES?
The Laws around the world vary greatly with regard to euthanasia, and are constantly subject to change as cultural values shift and better palliative care, or treatments become available. It is legal in some nations, while in others it may be criminalized. In some countries there is a divisive public controversy over the moral, ethical, and legal issues of euthanasia. Those who are against euthanasia may argue for the sanctity of life, while proponents of euthanasia rights emphasize alleviating suffering, and preserving bodily integrity, self-determination, and personal autonomy. Countries which have legitimized euthanasia are The Netherlands,Belgium, Oregon and Washington in the USA. In Switzerland only assisted suicide is legal. In India as mentioned above only passive euthanasia is legal.
LANDMARK CASE IN INDIA
Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India
FACTS OF THE CASE
Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who was assaulted by a ward boy, and went into a vegetative state in 1973. • She remained blind, deaf, paralyzed and in a vegetative state till her death in 2015. A Writ Petition was filed by Pinki Virani claiming that her right to life guaranteed by the constitution had been violated. The petition was rejected by the court after medical examination. However, later in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India, the Supreme Court in March 2011 held that passive euthanasia could be given a nod in case of exceptional circumstances and under strict monitoring of the apex court.
On 7 March 2011 the Supreme Court of India legalized passive euthanasia by means of the withdrawal of life support to patients in a permanent vegetative state. The decision was made as part of the verdict in a case involving Aruna Shanbaug, who had been in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) for 42 years until her death in 2015.
The Supreme Court of India specified two irreversible conditions to permit Passive Euthanasia:
- The Brain-Dead for whom the ventilator can be switched off.
- Those in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) for whom the feed can be tapered out and pain-managing palliatives be added, according to laid-down international specifications.
GUIDELINES LAID DOWN BY APEX COURT:
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 filled 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 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.
WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST EUTHANASIA?
Benefits of Legalizing Euthanasia (Arguments For)
- Provides relief to extreme pain.
- Relieves physical, mental and psychological pain for the patient and the family.
- Provides more facilities and funds for other patients needing medical treatment and attention.
- Euthanasia provides a way of relief when a person’s quality of life is low.
- It is another case of freedom of choice – the right to commit suicide.
- People should not be forced to stay alive.
- Speedy termination of physical and emotional suffering.
- Organs can be put to good use.
- Relieve mental suffering for the patient and his relatives.
Consequences of legalizing Euthanasia (Arguments Against)
- The ‘living will’ could be misused
- Religious beliefs could pose as a conflict in few scenarios
- The person might not be well informed of the possible treatment options
- Guidelines of the content of ‘living will’ has to be standardized
- Euthanasia demeans and devalues the sanctity of human life.
- Euthanasia can become a means of health care cost containment.
- Euthanasia will become non-voluntary.
- Euthanasia would not only be for people who are terminally ill.
- It amounts to murder and it is only God who can take away human life.
- It destroys life, which has potential that could be yet unknown to the patient, doctor or the family members.
- It discourages scientists who are looking for a cure for incurable ailments.
- An irreversible damage