Euthanasia and Human Rights: Judicial Trends

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Euthanasia and Human Rights

Written By: Khwahish Khurana


The term Euthanasia is derived from the Greek word Eu Thanatos which means easy death. It is sometimes also known as mercy killing or assisted suicide. In other words, euthanasia can be described as killing a person who is suffering from a permanently incurable and painful disease or an irreversible coma. Euthanasia can be given to the patient at his own request but there are cases where the patient is too ill to make a decision. In such a case the decision can be by the patient’s relative, doctors, or sometimes the court. In many developing countries, it’s been a debatable issue whether euthanasia should be made legal or not. Many people defend it by saying it is religiously and morally unacceptable.

Legality In India : Human Rights And Euthanasia

The concept of a living will and passive euthanasia was accepted in 2005 through a PIL filed by an NGO named Common Cause in India. “Living will ” is a concept that gives a right to a person where he can make a will in which he can state for eg; withdrawing of life support if such a situation arises and passive euthanasia was defined by the apex court as “entails withholding of medical treatment for continuance of life. Eg: withholding of antibiotics where without giving it a patient is likely to die”. In the Aruna Shanbaug case, Aruna was a nurse at KEM hospital and was raped by a staff member of that hospital in 1973. She was being treated at the same hospital after the incident and was being fed by a feeding tube for 48 years until she died in 2015.

In 2009 a petition was filed by Pinki Virani in the supreme court where she argued that keeping Aruna alive is in violation of her right to live in dignity guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian constitution. In 2011, the supreme court passed a decision in which passive euthanasia was legalized in India. The court laid certain conditions wherein they stated that passive euthanasia can be taken by parents, spouse, or close relative. And in absence of all of them, the decision can be made by the “next friend”.

In Aruna Shanbaug’s case, Pini Virani wasn’t considered a friend of Aruna and so the right to take the decision was transferred to the nurses of KEM hospital. The nurses denied giving euthanasia and said they will take care of Aruna until her last breath as they had done for the past 40 years. So in this case, euthanasia was not given to Aruna and she dies naturally in 2015. The supreme court stated that for passive ethunsais to be given, approval is required from the concerned high court. But in 2014, a three-judge bench of the supreme court termed the judgment of the Aruna Shanbaug case to be ‘inconsistent in itself”. The Euthanasia case and Common Cause v. Union of India, 2018 was transferred to a constitutional bench which upheld the “right to life and dignity includes right to refuse treatment and die with dignity”.

Criticisms Of Euthanasia And Living Will

While there are plenty of debates about euthanasia being against religion and morals,  people have to criticize it legally. There is a constant fear attached with the legalization of Euthanasia that it could be misused by people. The concept of “living will” was criticized because through this the family members could forge the living will and make it accordingly. Additionally, people have argued and linked euthanasia with homicide. Talking about passive euthanasia, it needs to be approved by the concerned high court as stated in Aruna Shaunbaug’s case which is a very complicated or complex process. It also degrades the value of life in the eyes of people for eg, old people and people with disabilities. Also, there could be cases in which the disease may not be diagnosed properly or the diseases could have been treated and it will lead to high suicide deaths.


There have been endless and lifelong debates on the pros and cons of legalizing Euthanasia. In India, euthanasia is only possible through legislation i.e if a person wants euthanasia, he/she has to get approval from the concerned high court. “Living will” is too legalized which would help a person decide how he wants to end his life through a will but it has disadvantages including being able to forge the document and misusing the law.

In the case common cause v. union of India, it clearly was stated by the supreme court that the right to life includes the right to die with dignity. The best part about euthanasia is the amount of money it would save when we start to euthanize the elderly and the people who are suffering from immense pain that cannot be treated. It should be everyone’s right if they are suffering every day with pain as for them natural death may be a terrible and painful fight to go through. Moreover, if it is legalized with enough safeguards and measures, it would be beneficial for the people.

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