- Article 21 of the Constitution gives me the right to life, but I also interpret it as giving me the right to take away my life. The right to life includes the right to live with dignity. When you are in pain, that dignity is lost and you are forced to rely on your kith and kin for support.
Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code:
- Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code prescribes punishment for attempting suicide. It is an offence, but it should not be one. You could die, but if you survive, you should get counselling, not go to jail.
Maharashtra Case Study:
- Narayan Lavate (88) and Iravati Lavate (78) from Maharashtra say that they do not wish to be a burden on society in their old age. They don’t have children and their siblings are no more, they say.
- They argue that spending the country’s scarce resources on keeping them alive, the old and ailing alive, is a criminal waste.
- This is simple logic. They also ask: What is the point in wasting money in treating old-age ailments when one has to eventually die?
A demand driven by logic
- The couple sees the aversion to euthanasia in India as a sign of the country’s “cultural backwardness”.
- According to Iravati, their desire to die is driven by logic, not spirituality.
- There is no point in living only because a legal system demands it, she says. At the same time, they are averse to the idea of committing suicide, which is an offence in India. What if something goes wrong, they wonder.
- The Lavates are fit. They worry for themselves and other old couples like them who want to die.
Aruna Shanbaug v. Union of India (2011):
- The path-breaking judgment inAruna Shanbaug v. Union of India (2011) brought the issue of euthanasia into the public domain. But unlike the Lavates, Aruna was in a permanently vegetative state since the brutal sexual attack on her in 1973 by a ward boy in Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital where she worked as a staff nurse.
- The 2011 judgment helped to push the debate to the extent of permitting passive euthanasia for terminally ill patients under the strict supervision of the High Court, in consultation with a team of doctors treating the terminally ill patient.
- Passive euthanasia means withdrawing life support to induce death in a natural way. In contrast, active euthanasia means injecting legal drugs to induce death.
- This is not permitted in India and so the Lavates’ request is unlikely to be heeded.
Should we allow living wills?
- But their letter to the President has opened up a new debate in this area. So far, the debate has been confined only to people who are terminally ill.
- Countries like Canada have given legal recognition to the concept of a “living will”, where people lay down directives in advance on how they should be treated if they end up in a vegetative state.
- Now an important question before the courts is whether the law should allow living wills.
- The Supreme Court is likely to take a decision on living wills in 2018, even as a draft Bill on withdrawal of life support to patients with terminal illness is under consideration.
- The Bill, however, deals only with terminal illness.