Should terminally ill patients have the right to die?
An NGO, Society for the Right to Die with Dignity, on Thursday moved the Supreme Court seeking legalisation of “voluntary euthanasia” in India.
Citing Indian cultural and religious traditions in Jainism and Hinduism, the Society said euthanasia should be allowed for terminally ill patients.
The Society’s petition was produced before a bench headed by Justice B.N. Agrawal, which said it would be taken up for hearing along with another petition filed by Common Cause, which has contended that “right to die with dignity” was included in the “right to live with dignity” guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The petition comes barely two days after an Italian woman, who had spent 17 years in vegetative state, died amid a raging row on merits of euthanasia. The death of Eluana Englaro, whose father had won a 10-year court battle to allow her feeding tube to be removed, triggered a fresh round of debate on euthanasia.
Explaining its philosophy of the right to die with dignity, the Society said it rested on the pillars of free will, freedom of choice and right of self-determination exercised at a time when the person was hale and hearty.
Maintaining that the objective of euthanasia was relief from unbearable sufferings and pain, the Society said there should be legal recognition of “an advanced directive” in the form of a “living will” executed by an individual in full possession of his/her decision-making capacity, without any duress, enunciating the condition of ill health in which he/she would not like to prolong life by artificial support.
In such a situation, persons duly authorised by the patient should be allowed to arrange for termination of life.
The Society, however, said strict punishment should be given to those misusing the provision for voluntary euthanasia. It also demanded amendment to Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (which makes attempt to suicide punishable) to exclude mercy killing.
The Centre has been opposing legalisation on euthanasia on the ground that it can be misused in Indian circumstances.
Recommending decriminalisation of attempt to suicide, the Law Commission recently said, right to live would mean right to live with human dignity up to the end of the natural life. It would include right to die with dignity and should not be equated with an unnatural death.
It said a dying man who is terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state can be permitted to terminate it by premature extinction of life. “These are not cases of extinguishing life but only accelerating the process of natural death, which has already commenced,” it added.
The Commission, however, said such desirable change is the function of the legislature that may provide adequate safeguards.