Euthanasia and Human Rights: A Comparative Study of International Legislation and Judicial Trends

Written by: Eshti Kapoor

Introduction

Euthanasia comes from two Greek words: ‘Eu’ and ‘Thantos’, which mean “good death” or “easy death” In regards to euthanasia, several authors have provided varied definitions. Euthanasia can be granted in a variety of ways, including active euthanasia, passive euthanasia, consensual euthanasia, involuntary euthanasia, and non-voluntary euthanasia.

Active Euthanasia is defined as the administration of a poisonous chemical into a person’s body with the intent of causing death. Passive Euthanasia refers to delaying a person’s death by removing artificial support systems that are necessary for his survival. Euthanasia with consent is referred to as Voluntary Euthanasia. A person declares his willingness to end his life to end his never-ending anguish and sorrows in this sort of euthanasia. Involuntary Euthanasia is a type of euthanasia in which the person’s relatives and guardians allow him to die in order to relieve him of severe misery. A person who is in a prolonged vegetative state and cannot be revived is awarded Non-Voluntary Euthanasia.

Historical Background of Euthanasia[1]

The concept of Euthanasia is not a modern phenomenon but an old human civilization. From ancient times to the turn of the century, the notion of euthanasia goes back to primaeval times, and interest in the subject has waxed and wanted over the years. In ancient Greece and Rome, helping others die or putting them to death was considered permissible in some situations.

History has described how the Roman emperor Augustus died promptly and without suffering in the arms of his wife Liva, experiencing the ‘euthanasia’ he had wished for. The word ‘euthanasia’ was first used in a medical context by Francois 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. Many ancient texts, including the Bible, the Quran, and the Rig-Veda, mention self-destruction or suicide. But within Hindus, there prevailed two views:

By helping to end a painful life, a person is performing a good deed and fulfilling their moral obligations;

By helping to end a life, even one filled with suffering, a person is disturbing the time of the cycle of death and rebirth. This is a bad thing to do, and those involved in euthanasia will take on the remaining karma of the patient.

Various Types of Euthanasia[2]

  • Legal Injection

A deadly dose of a substance, such as a known toxin, KCl, or other, is injected.

  • Asphyxiation

Carbon monoxide is the most commonly used gas (CO). Nerve gases like sarin and tabun, among others, are also used in minuscule amounts to assure death.

Dr Jack Kevorkian’s death machine is also one of the approaches (mercitron, thanatron). Dr Death is another name for him. It’s a one-of-a-kind approach for a person to take his or her own life. This machine allows a person to end his or her life in a painless manner at a time set by the patient.

In the instance of Gian Kaur vs. State of Punjab[3], the court decided that Article 21 refers to the right to life. However, proponents of euthanasia argue that if a person with a fatal illness can’t even take care of himself, how can we expect him to live a decent life?

 In that instance, allowing him to end his life would be preferable, given Article 21 calls for a dignified existence. However, the court clarified that, under Article 21, a person has the right to a dignified life, which includes the right to die with dignity. However, in this case, having the right to die means dying naturally. As a result, there is no mention of the right to die an unnatural death in Article 21.

Article 21 cannot be understood to limit a person’s natural lifespan if he or she has a predetermined end date. If a person is terminally ill, that does not mean he or anybody else has the authority to take his life. It would undoubtedly be a breach of the “sanctity of life.” Living a decent life does not imply that one can end one’s life in an unnatural manner. It is not mentioned in our Constitution.

As a result, the right to life excludes the right to die. It will undoubtedly be a violation of human rights if a person’s life ended in an unnatural manner. A person has the right to live his or her life as he or she wishes, simply because he or she is a human being. But that doesn’t give him the freedom to take his life whenever he wants. God has given him this life, and it should end when it reaches its natural end.

The International Legislation of Euthanasia[4]

A person declares his willingness to end his life to end his never-ending anguish and sorrows in this sort of euthanasia. Involuntary Euthanasia is a type of euthanasia in which the person’s relatives and guardians allow him to die in order to relieve him of severe misery. A person who is in a prolonged vegetative state and cannot be revived is awarded non-voluntary euthanasia.

  • Belgium

According to Belgian legislation, if a person who is terminally ill expresses a desire to die sooner, doctors are permitted to assist in the termination of the person. As a result, Belgium, following the Netherlands and Oregon, became the third country to allow euthanasia. The Belgian government, on the other hand, has enacted strict legislation regarding euthanasia. There are just a few conditions and requirements for:

  • Only those who have reached the age of majority and are legally competent can request euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.
  • The demand for euthanasia should be deliberate, constant, and cyclic. It shouldn’t be made under any unnecessary stress.
  • A person who is incurably ill and whose suffering is uncontrollable, such as a serious and fatal disorder induced by illness.
  • Canada

Euthanasia has long been a contentious issue in Canada, with numerous proposals introduced in Parliament, the Civil and Criminal Courts, the Law Reform Commission, and medical associations. The prospect of allowing the irreversible annihilation of a person’s verve and the isolation of further people as a result of these agreements outweighs any recompense obtained through corroboration. The law on living wills and passive euthanasia in Canada is a legal tangle. Testimonies that are included in the policy for the creation of life-sustaining remedial measures are administered by the prefecture.

  • Greece

Greece has a significant impact on the euthanasia debate since it is aligned with the viewpoint where doctors promise to go to jail. In fact, doctors are at the forefront of the debate because they are the ones who must determine what to do when an elderly person requests euthanasia. The vast pervasiveness of the community in Greece is associated with PAS as a result of ritual as well as a declaration of belief.

The ability of the practitioner’s attitude, as well as the Christian Orthodox Church’s liberal worldview, have trained physicians and the general public to hate PAS. Furthermore, any such act, such as a massacre, is likely to be punished, according to the demand. Individual changes do, however, manage to endure in Greece, as they do in many other self-governing countries, and the substance entices rising discussion.

  • Luxembourg

On February 20, 2008, the country’s Parliament approved a statement allowing Euthanasia. To begin with, 30 people out of 59 voted in favour of legalising euthanasia. Following the Netherlands and Belgium, Luxembourg became the third European Union country, after the Netherlands and Belgium, to decriminalise euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide, on March 19, 2009. After a panel of two physicians and specialists agrees, terminally ill people will be able to terminate their lives. The excess law was approved by 26 out of 30 votes.

  • Norway

Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide are both illegal in Norway, according to the current legislation. Despite the fact that the permission of the fatality is important in such circumstances, courts rarely decide.

Judicial Trends[5]

Euthanasia is not permitted in India. If a doctor attempts to murder a patient, the case will almost certainly be prosecuted under[6]. However, in the case of voluntary euthanasia, such cases will come under[7] and the doctor will be held accountable for culpable homicide under[8].

Proviso one to Section 92 of the IPC would strike down cases of non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia, making them illegal. There have also been some misunderstandings about the distinction between suicide and euthanasia. In the case of Naresh Marotrao Sakhre v. Union of India[9], it was clearly distinguished. In this case, J. Lodha stated plainly. Suicide is, by definition, a self-killing or self-destruction act, an act of ending one’s own life without the help or support of another human being.

On the other hand, euthanasia, often known as mercy killing, refers to and implies the use of another human agency to end a person’s life. As a result, mercy killing is not suicide, and an attempt at mercy killing is not covered by Section 309. Both legally and factually, the two notions are separate. Euthanasia, also known as mercy killing, is nothing more than homicide, regardless of the circumstances.

The case of State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Shripathi Dubal[10] was the first to analyse whether or not Article 21 includes the freedom to die. The Bombay High Court ruled in this case that the ‘right to live’ included the ‘right to die,’ and Section 309 was repealed. In this case, the court stated unequivocally that the freedom to die is not unnatural; it is simply exceptional and atypical. The court also highlighted a number of scenarios in which a person would choose to end his life. In the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India[11], the Supreme Court upheld this.

Conclusion

Medical technology is growing in India, as it is in the rest of the globe, and we now have devices that can artificially prolong life. This may inadvertently extend terminal pain and prove to be extremely costly for the subject’s families. As a result, end-of-life issues are becoming major ethical concerns in India’s modern medical research. In India, as in the rest of the globe, proponents and opponents of euthanasia and PAS are active.

The Indian legislature, on the other hand, does not appear to be concerned about these issues. The landmark Supreme Court decision has given pro-euthanasia supporters a big boost. However, there is still a long way to go before it becomes legislation in the legislature. Furthermore, fears of its abuse remain a key concern that must be addressed before it becomes law in our country.

About the Author

Euthanasia and Human Rights: A Comparative Study of International Legislation and Judicial Trends

Eshti Kapoor

Student at Vivekananda School of Law and Legal Studies, VIPS.

She has participated in various academic events at VSLLS including successfully completing the Legal Drafting and Office Management Course at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies. She has a keen interest in writing and has written many articles for various legal blogs. She is an author of “Equal Pay for Equal Work” Research Paper published at Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research (JETIR)


[1] Historical Background of Euthanasia and Legality of Euthanasia ( https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/216022/5/05_chapter%202.pdf ) (Last Visited: 12.08.21)

[2] Euthanasia and Human Rights- Euthanasia Illegal in India, Mohita and Aman Chhibber (https://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l118-Euthanasia-and-Human-Rights.html ) (Last Visited: 12.08.21)

[3] 1996 AIR 946

[4] The Concept of Euthanasia: A Comparative Study, Anmol Garg, Dr Renu Mahajan, ( http://www.jcreview.com/fulltext/197-1598293436.pdf ) (Last Visited: 12.08.21)

[5] Euthanasia and Human Rights- Euthanasia Illegal in India, Mohita and Aman Chhibber (https://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l118-Euthanasia-and-Human-Rights.html ) (Last Visited: 12.08.21)

[6] Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

[7] Exception 5 to section 300 of the Indian Penal Code,1860

[8] Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code,1860

[9] 1996 (1) BomCR 92

[10] 1996 AIR 946

[11] 1994 SCC (3) 394

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