“By the term “life” as here used something more is meant than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all these limits and faculties by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body or amputation of an arm or leg or the putting out of an eye or the destruction of any other organ of the body through which the soul communicates with the outer world……. by the term liberty, as used in the provision something more is meant than mere freedom from physical restraint or the bonds of a prison.”
Article 21 of the Constitution casts the obligation on the State to preserve life. The provision as explained by the Supreme Court in scores of decisions has emphasised and reiterated with gradually increasing emphasis on this position. The State is under an unenforceable obligation with regard to the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health. There is no social security/health guarantee scheme of the Government that ensures every common man his sound health.
Moreover, our governmental health facilities are itself in Intensive Care Unit, expecting anything from it would be an excessive. For a country of 121billion, India spends 5.2% of the GDP on healthcare. While 4.3% is spent by the private sector, the government continues to spend merely 0.9% on public health. When the economic growth index is moving forward, the wellness index is dipping. India has become laboratory and sanctuary of various hazardous diseases, records highest death due to scanty medical care or treatment. Even patients of minor diseases die due to absence of timely and proper treatment. People are forced to travel miles of distance to avail medical recourses and that too after paying hefty amounts to hospitals run by private organizations.
Mortality is life’s inevitability. As the end approaches, terrible illnesses inflict themselves on the body and unbearable sufferings become the lot of the victim. Lingering life may be prolonged, if artificial processes and extreme continuances by medical skill were resorted to. If such devices were withdrawn life will cease. Such termination will extinguish agony and grief, although the last breath will also arrive together with the final moment of physical existence.
Death is deliverance from dreadful disease and intolerable torment. It is a philosophical, medical and logical dilemma as to whether euthanasia is morally and legally justifiable in such situations? Excruciating pain with-no prospect of survival or Exit Distress by instant End? The high literacy state Kerala could become the first in India to allow mercy killing if a recommendation by the state law reforms commission gets the government’s nod. Euthanasia has been favoured by former Supreme Court judge Justice V R Krishna Iyer. Our society need to adopt non-dogmatic view on this matter.
Life is sacred but intense pain with no relief in sight is a torture which negatives the meaning of existence. Therefore, many great minds have opted for euthanasia. The Indian Penal Code and its author Macaulay are not the last word. The jurisprudence of euthanasia is a positive contribution to happiness during life and freedom from torment when no other alternative exists. Higher social philosophy which transcends limited material perspectives will illumine the noises of euthanasia.
Every person is entitled to a quality of life consistent with his human personality. The right to live with human dignity is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen. Life is not mere living but living in health. Health is not the absence of illness but a glowing vitality.
The right to life’ including the right to live with human dignity would mean the existence of such a right up to the end of natural life. This also includes the right to a dignified life up to the point of death including a dignified procedure of death. In other words, this may include the right of a dying man to also die with dignity when his life is ebbing out. But the right to die with dignity at the end of life is not to be confused or equated with the right to die an unnatural death curtailing the natural span of life. According to the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, the precise definition of euthanasia is “a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering.”
In such circumstances where the State has perennially failed to discharge its obligation and we the people of India are unable to avail medical facilities. The Parliament should think for legalising passive euthanasia by coming up with proper measures that if a person, afflicted with terminal disease, should be given the right to refuse being put on life support system after medical experts declare that he or she has reached a point of no return. As the same happens in Netherlands which has detailed procedure before permission for euthanasia is granted.
Written by: Manish Kr. Singh, 5th year B.A.LL.B. student in the Chanakya National Law University, Patna. Views expressed are personal.
# Munn v. Illinois (1877) 94 U.S. 113.
# Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors, AIR 1989 SC 2039, (1989) 4 SCC 286.
# Article 47 of the Constitution of India.
# The Times of India, Nirmala M Nagaraj, TNN Aug 11, 2009.
# The final report of Law Reforms Commission, Kerala, 2009.
# Vikram Deo Singh Tomar v. State of Bihar, 1988 (Supp) SCC 734 (vide para 2).
# P. Rathinam v. Union of India and Anr. (1994) 3 SCC 394.
# Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. AIR 2011 SC 1290.