Assisted Death

In this post, the author has discussed about the assisted death. The author has discussed in details about the most controversial topic euthanasia.


Assisted death is death undertaken with the aid of another person. It can also be known as Assisted Suicide. The death assisted by a physician or other healthcare provider. Generally, assisted death may include the provision of prescription illegal drugs, a weapon, or with medication with the understanding that the recipient plans to commit suicide. The physician-assisted death or suicide slightly collides with the term euthanasia. Where physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal in Switzerland and the Netherlands and illegal in other parts of the world. Indian Penal Code deals with the aspects of Assisted Suicide and both Passive and Active Euthanasia. Under IPC 302 and 304 practice of active euthanasia is an offense which deals with the punishment for murder and punishment for culpable homicide respectively.

It is essential to understand the effects of religious and cultural decision making in the process as we live in a multicultural society, especially in the field of physician-assisted suicide.

Physician-assisted suicide can be defined as the practice of providing a competent patient with a prescription for medication for the patient to use with the primary intention of ending his or her own life[1]. Whereas Euthanasia can be defined as the deliberate intervention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering[2]. In simple words, physician-assisted suicide is one were competent himself introduces the medication to himself, and in euthanasia, a medicated doctor introduces the medication.


History

Hippocratic Oath, dating back some 2500 years is only one argument against euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Which states:

“I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

Humankind has always opposed medically assisted suicide, but that’s not true as we can find “mercy killings” in ancient Greece and Rome to particularly avoid lengthy, painful deaths. Medically assisted death took root with the rise of Christianity and Judaism, which preached that life is a gift of God, and he could only take it. By the middle ages, people around the globe were united against the practice.

Where a lady from America killed herself in 1935 as she had breast cancer, writing a suicide note:

"When one is assured of unavoidable and imminent death, it is the simplest of the human rights to choose a quick and easy death over a slow and horrible one.”

Oregon became the first state to approve an assisted suicide law, after surviving a court challenge. Since then, the practice has very slowly been gaining acceptance.


Current Indian position on physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia

Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital has been in the news of Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who is living in a vegetative state for the last 37 years after being brutally assaulted by a hospital worker. News broke down stating the Supreme Court of India turned down the mercy killing petition for Aruna[3].

“India’s press agencies report that Seema Sood,37, is now walking again for the first since 1993, as she was suffering from advanced rheumatoid arthritis which left in deforming all her joints. Two years ago, she petitioned the President of India for ‘mercy killing,’ a plea she is now thankful went unanswered.”

The difference between the physician-assisted death and euthanasia in India lies in who administers the lethal dose. The legal position of physician-assisted death falls with section 406 of IPC which states abetment of suicide. So in technicality, the person who seeks either of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide has to go through the courts of law. As per the study in the UK, doctors opposed the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and that a strong belief was independently associated with opposition to assisted dying[4].

IPC 309 defines “whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offense, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both”. In Rathinam v Union of India[5], the supreme court held that section 309 violates Article 21 as the right to live can bring the trail that right not to live a forced life. But the Supreme Court held that Article 21 could not be construed to include the right to die as a part of fundamental right; therefore, it was ruled that it could not be validly stated that section 309 violates Article 21 under Gian Kaur v State of Punjab[6].


The issue of religious diversity

Hinduism: If a person commits suicide, he wanders aimlessly as a bad spirit neither going to hell or heaven. Later the person goes to hell itself to complete the left “karma[7]” in his next birth. Committing suicide in violation of code Ahimsa.

Islam: Euthanasia or mercy killing is forbidden in Islam according to Prof Yusuf Al-Quardhawi. Killing either through assisted death or euthanasia is a major sin. Muslims believe suicide, attempted suicide, assisted suicide, and euthanasia are all prohibited in Islam according to Quranic verses.

Christianity: Death by suicide is considered as grave or serious sin and this belief is based on another belief that life is god’s property and a gift to this world and nobody has the right to destroy it.


Conclusion

Assisted suicide and euthanasia is a topic that will be in arguments among the people regarding ethical, regional, and social aspects. Empirical research is needed to know the perception of people regarding assisted suicide and euthanasia and to know whether it could practice in India or not, as passive euthanasia is allowed under the legal framework in India. In a recent paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the authors conclude: “Where assisted dying is already legal, there is no current evidence for the claim that legalized PAS [physician assisted suicide] or euthanasia will have a disproportionate impact on patients in vulnerable groups. This kind of social medicine research gives an important insight into the socio-economic and cultural aspects of assisted dying.\


References:

[1] Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary. 3rd ed. Wiley Publishing, Inc; 2008 [2] Harris NM. The euthanasia debate.2001;147;367-70. [3] Kutreki A. KEM nurses hail SC order on Aruna Shanbaug. [4] Seale C. Legalisation of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide: a survey of doctors' attitudes. Palliate Med. 2009;23:205-12 [5] AIR 1994 SC 1844 [6] AIR 1996 SC 946 [7] Jayaram v 2010


Submitted by:

Nishanth Gowda S,

Ramaiah College of Law (Images used for representative purpose only)

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