Euthanasia: An ethical debate in India

By | December 1, 2015
Euthanasia is an assisted death. It is administered by doctors to the patients who they consider as almost dead and have a right to a dignified death. There have been wide ranging debates on it in the world and India has also witnessed it in recent times. The Supreme Court ruling in Aruna Shanbaug case reflects India’s position on the matter.
Case of Aruna Shanbaug
  • India’s debate on the legality of the use of euthanasia was pioneered by the case of Aruna Shanbaug, who was molested and raped by a ward boy in a Mumbai hospital.
  • From the past 42 years, she had been in a vegetative state living on various life support systems.
  • She was diagnosed with pneumonia and was put on ventilator system and the she suffered a cardiac arrest on 18th May finally leading to her death.


Role of the Honorable Supreme Court
  • This case had sparked a debate on the legality of passive euthanasia in India when the case was filed in the Supreme Court by petitioner Vinki Virani, who had applied for a permission from the Supreme Court to grant passive euthanasia to Shanbaug.
  • Justice Markande Katju and Justice Gyansudha Misra delivered a landmark judgement in 2011, allowing passive euthanasia in certain special cases where the family members of the victim apply for a passive euthanasia.
  • The Attorney General GE Vahanvati was against the grant of such an unnatural death depicting the government stand.
  • India needs a strong legislation on this part to define the applicability of passive euthanasia and apply stringent checks and balances.
Active vs Passive Euthanasia
  • Active euthanasia is a type in which a doctor deliberately causes a patient to die by administrating a lethal drug. The doctor acts with an intention that it would cause death, when he is assured that the person is beyond cure and is suffering unbearable pain.
  • In case of passive euthanasia, the doctor lets the patient die by either turning off the life support machines, disconnecting the feeding tube or not giving a life extending drug. This is once again done only when the patient is incurable or is suffering from unbearable pain.
  • Many feel that active euthanasia is immoral and passive is more moral. They feel that it is immoral to inject lethal drugs to kill someone.
  • Many consider passive euthanasia to be immoral due to the fact that it would lead to a gradual and more painful death to the patient as compared to active euthanasia.
  • The action should be based on the principle that which action would cause the least affliction of pain on the patient.
Arguments in favor
  • Pain inflicted upon the patient
  • Medical expenses
  • Lack of medical facilities in a country like India
  • Death is not always bad
  • Cruel and in humane to refuse someone the right to die if he/she is under unbearable pain
  • It just reinforces the inevitability of an imminent death

Arguments against

  • Right to life
  • No one can be authorized to inflict death upon a patient
  • Judgement of patients may be impaired by the pain and suffering they see ahead, even if they seem curable
  • It undermines concept of medical excellence and medical miracles. It is probably a retrograde step for medical innovations
  • It violates the codes of medical ethics
  • Voluntary euthanasia can become involuntary due to flouting of rules
  • Grey population could be thought of being a burden on the family and hence their progeny may opt for euthanasia
International practices
  • Netherlands became the First Nation to legalize assisted suicide in 2002 in case a patient is suffering from unbearable pain and the illness must be incurable. Such an activity can be carried out in case a demand is raised by the patient in a fully conscious state.
  • In France, the concept of right to be left to die was introduced in 2005. It allowed the doctors to decide to limit or stop any treatment that was not useful and has no object but to artificially prolong life.
  • Euthanasia has been legalized in a few states of the U.S.

The Indian Parliament must enact a law to legalise euthanasia, but in a very restricted and controlled environment, so that the practise is not misused and doesn’t lead to indiscriminate deaths.

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