Euthanasia is described as an intentional killing of a person for the benefit of that person in order to relieve him from pain and suffering. The term ‘Euthanasia’ has been derived from the Greek words ( ‘Eu’- Good , ‘Thanatos’- death) which means Good death. It is also known as ‘Mercy killing’.
According to Oxford English dictionary Euthanasia means, the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or a person who is in irreversible coma.
Euthanasia can be classified as following:-
1) Active Euthanasia:- when a person deliberately does something which results in the death of a patient. It is known as Active Euthanasia. It is also known as Positive or Aggressive Euthanasia and is crime in India under India Penal Code sec- 302 and304
2) Passive Euthanasia:- It means withdrawal or removal of a life support system from the Patient. Hence, where the death is brought by an act of ommission is known as Passive Euthanasia or Negative Euthanasia. It is considered as a slow killer and is more comfortable than the Active Method.
3) Voluntary euthanasia: Euthanasia conducted with the consent of the patient is termed voluntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is legal in some countries. Jurisdictions, where euthanasia is legal, include the Netherlands, Colombia, Belgium and Luxembourg.
4) Non-Voluntary euthanasia: Euthanasia conducted where the consent of the patient is unavailable is termed non-voluntary euthanasia. Non-voluntary euthanasia is illegal in all countries. it refers to ending the life of a person who is not mentally competent to make an informed request to die. In Non-Voluntary euthanasia the patient has left no such living will or given any advance directives, as he may not have had an opportunity to do so, or may not have anticipated any such accident or eventuality. In cases of non voluntary euthanasia, it is often the family members, who make the decision.
5) Involuntary euthanasia: Euthanasia conducted against the will of the patient is termed involuntary euthanasia. It refers to cases wherein a competent patient’s life is brought to an end against the wishes of that patient that oppose euthanasia; and would clearly amount to murder.
The laws pertaining to euthanasia and the practice of euthanasia throughout the world, has gained importance for the most part, in the second half of the 20th Century. There are several instances pertaining to suicide and euthanasia in different countries, some of which have been illustrated below:-
In April 2002, Netherlands became the first European country to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. It states that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not punishable if the attending physician acts in accordance with the criteria of due care. It legalizes euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in very specific cases, under very specific circumstances.
The Northern Territory of Australia became the first country to legalize euthanasia by passing the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, 1996. It was held to be legal in the case Wake v. Northern Territory of Australia12 by the Supreme Court of Northern Territory of Australia.
Laws in the United States maintain the distinction between passive and active euthanasia. Euthanasia has been made totally illegal by the United States Supreme Court in the cases Washington v. Glucksberg13 and Vacco v. Quill14
In Canada, patients have the right to refuse life sustaining treatments but they do not have the right to demand for euthanasia or assisted suicide.
Thr Belgian Parliament legislation ‘Belgium Act on Euthanasia’ was made euthanasia legal in May, 2002 which is quite similar to that passed in the Netherlands.
According to Article 115 of Swiss Penal Code, suicide is not a crime and assisting suicide is a crime if only the motive is selfish. It does not require the involvement of physician nor is that the patient terminally ill. It only requires that the motive must be unselfish.
Euthanasia is controversial because of Art-21 of the Indian constitution which grants Indian citizens the ‘Right to live life with dignity’ Now, the question arises whether this ‘Right to life’ includes ‘Right to die’ while giving this answer India courts expressed different opinions. One such judgement was given by the Supreme court of India in the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India which opened the gateway for legalization of passive euthanasia.
In this case a petition was filed before the Supreme Court for seeking permission for euthanasia for one Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug as she was in a Persistent Vegetative State (P.V.S.) and virtually a dead person and has no state of awareness and her brain was virtually dead. Supreme Court established a committee for medical examination of the patient for ascertaining the issue. Lastly the Court dismissed the petition filed on behalf Shanbaug and observed that passive euthanasia is permissible under supervision of law in exceptional circumstances but active euthanasia is not permitted under the law. The court also recommended to decriminalized attempt to suicide by erasing the punishment provided in Indian Penal Code.
The Court in this connection has laid down the guidelines which will continue to be the law until Parliament makes a law on this point.