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Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

  • 17 Sep 2022
  • 6 min read

For Mains: Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia and related issues

Why in News?

Recently, Jean-Luc Godard, one of the legends of French New Wave cinema, died by assisted suicide at the age of 91.

What is Assisted Suicide?

  • About:
    • Assisted suicide and euthanasia both are practices under which a person intentionally ends their life with active assistance from others.
    • Several European nations, some states in Australia and Colombia in South America allow assisted suicide and euthanasia under certain circumstances.
  • Types:
    • Active:
      • Active euthanasia, which is legal in only a few countries, entails the use of substances to end the life of the patient.
    • Passive:
      • It involves simply stopping lifesaving treatment or medical intervention with the consent of the patient or a family member or a close friend representing the patient.

What are the Arguments for and against Assisted Suicide?

  • Arguments for:
    • Freedom of Choice:
      • Advocates argue that the person should be able to make their own choice.
    • Quality of Life:
      • Only the individual really knows how they feel, and how the physical and emotional pain of illness and prolonged death impacts their quality of life.
    • Dignity:
      • Every individual should be able to die with dignity.
    • Resources:
      • It makes more sense to channel the resources of highly skilled staff, equipment, hospital beds, and medications toward lifesaving treatments for those who wish to live, rather than those who do not.
    • Humane:
      • It is more humane to allow a person with intractable suffering to be allowed to choose to end that suffering.
    • Loved ones:
      • It can help to shorten the grief and suffering of loved ones.
  • Arguments Against:
    • Moral and Religious Arguments:
      • Several faiths see euthanasia as a form of murder and morally unacceptable. Suicide, too, is “illegal” in some religions. Morally, there is an argument that euthanasia will weaken society’s respect for the sanctity of life.
    • Patient Competence:
      • Euthanasia is only voluntary if the patient is mentally competent, with a lucid understanding of available options and consequences, and the ability to express that understanding and their wish to terminate their own life. Determining or defining competence is not straightforward.
    • Guilt:
      • Patients may feel they are a burden on resources and are psychologically pressured into consenting. They may feel that the financial, emotional, and mental burden on their family is too great.
    • Slippery slope:
      • There is a risk that physician-assisted suicide will start with those who are terminally ill and wish to die because of intractable suffering, but then begin to include other individuals.
    • Regulation: Euthanasia cannot be properly regulated.

Does India allow Assisted Suicide or Euthanasia?

  • In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India legalised passive euthanasia in 2018, stating that it was a matter of ‘living will’.
  • According to the judgment, an adult in his conscious mind is permitted to refuse medical treatment or voluntarily decide not to take medical treatment to embrace death in a natural way, under certain conditions.
  • The court laid down a set of guidelines for ‘living will’ and defined passive euthanasia and euthanasia as well.
  • It also laid down guidelines for ‘living will’ made by terminally ill patients who beforehand know about their chances of slipping into a permanent vegetative state.
  • The court specifically stated that the rights of a patient, in such cases, would not fall out of the purview of Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Indian Constitution.
  • The SC’s judgment was in accordance with its verdict in March 2011 on a separate plea.
    • While ruling on a petition on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug, the court had allowed passive euthanasia for the nurse who had spent decades in a vegetative state. Shanbaug had become central to debates on the legality of right to die and euthanasia in India.
      • A vegetative state is when a person is awake but is showing no signs of awareness.
  • However, another bench of the Supreme Court, in 2014, cited inconsistencies in earlier verdicts on passive euthanasia, including the one given in the Shanbaug case, and referred the matter to a Constitution bench.

Source: IE

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