March 27, 2023

Euthanasia – Indian Law

This article has been written by Ms. Ayushi Notani, a 1st year law student pursuing BBA.LLB(HONS) from Vivekananda Institute Of Professional Studies.


“Mercy killing is nothing but homicide, whatever the circumstances in which it is affected. Unless it is specifically accepted it cannot be offences. Indian Penal Code further punishes not only abetment of homicide, but also abetment of suicide”-Supreme Court in M.S. Dabal Vs. State of Maharashtra. The Bombay High Court held that right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes ‘Right to Die’.  “I will give no deadly medicine if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.” This oath is taken by doctors to serve their profession in a dignified manner and it tells us that they are made to save the life of others, not to take the life of others. 

Euthanasia according to the Oxford Dictionary is defined as, “the practice of killing without pain a person who is suffering from a disease that cannot be cured.” The rationale behind the process of euthanasia is to relieve a patient, mostly a terminally ill patient where there is no reasonable alternative, of their pain and suffering by ending their life. The reason is that the patients are in such a condition that living will cause more suffering than a painless death. It is well known that the euthanasia has been subject to many debates and it is opposed by an overwhelming majority of the international community. Bills dealing with the subject of euthanasia are not easy to pass and come under immense parliamentary debate. The efforts to legalize euthanasia in India have always been difficult and had to face many ups and downs to establish itself as a lawful act. 


Euthanasia means mercy killing. It is a modern terminology to the word ‘moksha’. It is derived from a Greek word ‘eu’ meaning good or well and ‘thanatos’ meaning death. When a person is suffering from an ailment from a very long time which has no cure and that person is given the permission to end his life in order to relieve pain and suffering is called “Euthanasia”. 

Euthanasia is more complex than just killing a person who is suffering from a disease that cannot be cured. To understand the law behind euthanasia, it is important to understand it from a medical jurisprudence. Euthanasia is often confused with assisted suicide, as it involves a doctor pulling the plug on a patient to relieve them of their suffering. Euthanasia can be further categorized into active and passive euthanasia. Active Euthanasia is when a physician deliberately acts in a way to end a patient’s life. Passive Euthanasia, on the other hand, is the withholding or withdrawing of treatment necessary to maintain life. 


There had been many debates going on the issue of legalizing euthanasia in all the parts of the world, it is legal in some countries and in some it amounts to murder. 

The Northern Territory of Australia became the first country to legalize euthanasia by passing the Rights of the Terminally ILL Act, 1966.

Netherlands is the first country in the world to legalize both euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2002. According to them, killing a person on his or her request is punishable with twelve years of imprisonment or fine and also assisting a person to commit suicide is also punishable by imprisonment upto three years or fine.  

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. 

Euthanasia is illegal in United Kingdom but on 5th November 2006 Britain Royal College of obstructions and gynaecologists submitted a proposal to the Nuffield Counsel of Bioethics calling for consideration of permitting the euthanasia of disabled new-born.

In U.S.A, there is a distinction between passive and active euthanasia. While active euthanasia is prohibited but physicians are not held liable if they withhold or withdraw the life sustaining treatment of the patient either on his request or at the request of patient’s authorized representative. Euthanasia has been made totally illegal by the United States Supreme Court. 


In case of physicians, there is an intention to cause death of patient, hence he can be charged under Section 300(1) Of Indian Penal Code, 1860 but where there is valid consent of the deceased, exception 5 of the Section 300 is attracted and thus the act of the physician is considered as culpable homicide not amounting to murder under Part I of Section 304 . In case of non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia, the act of physician can be fall under Section 88 and 92 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 as there is an intention to causing death of a patient for his benefit. And other relatives who are aware of such intention either of the patient or of the physician can be charged under Section 202 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.


From the moment a person is person he or she is clothed with basic human rights. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provided for Right to Life which is one of the basic as well as most important fundamental right. Right to life means a human being has an essential right to live, particularly that such human being has the right not to be killed by another human being. ‘Right to life’ including the right to live with human dignity would mean the existence of such right up to the end of natural life. This may include the right of a dying man to die with dignity. Thus, the concept of right to life is central to the debate on the issue of Euthanasia. One of the controversial issues in the recent past has been the question of legalizing the right to die or euthanasia. Euthanasia is controversial since it involves the deliberate termination of human life. Patient suffering from terminal diseases are often faced with the great deal of pain as the diseases gradually worsens until it kills them and this may be so frightening for them that they would rather end their life than suffering it. 


Euthanasia is totally different from suicide and homicide. Under the Indian Penal Code, attempt to commit suicide is punishable under Section 309 of IPC and also abetment to suicide is punishable under Section 306 of IPC. A person commits suicide for various reasons like dejection, failure, unemployment etc but in euthanasia such reasons are not present. Euthanasia means putting a person to painless death in case of incurable diseases or when life became purposeless or hopeless as a result of mental or physical handicap. It also differs from homicide. In murder, the murderer has the intention to cause harm or cause death in his mind whereas in euthanasia although there is an intention to cause death, such intention is in good faith. Thus, Indian Parliament should enact a law regarding euthanasia which enables a doctor to suffering from an incurable disease with the consent of the patient. Thus, euthanasia could be legalized, but the laws would have to be very stringent. Every case will have to be carefully monitored taking into consideration the point of views of the patient, the relatives and the doctors. 


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