Should Passive Euthanasia Be Legalized?

Author: Agrani Khare

Abstract

The following article includes a critical analysis on Euthanasia and focuses on how can it act as a tool to comfort the patients in permanent vegetative state. This article revolves around the current status of passive euthanasia in India and in other countries of the world and also emphasizes upon the need to legalize passive euthanasia today. The author with the help of this article has tried to bring into light, the fact that how can euthanasia be wrongfully used for performing crimes if not taken precautionary measures to keep controlled checks on it and also mentioned certain ways in which the checks can be imposed in order to limit its contribution to Medical science rather than in crimes. Through this article, the author has put forth the point of all essential considerations centering passive euthanasia and drawn interest of the readers to think of it as a valuable tool to be introduced for serving the ones in actual need of it. This article highlights the necessity of passive euthanasia and its legalization to prove effective in certain critical cases, as this lies unaccepted in many corners of the world even today.

Key words: active and passiveeuthanasia, morality, Permanent vegetative state, life support system, consent, withdrawal, withstand, living Will, right to live and die with dignity

Introduction

The term ‘Euthanasia’ has been derived from the Greek words ‘eu’ meaning ‘good’ and ‘thanatos’ meaning ‘death’ thereby making the meaning of the term euthanasia as ‘good death’. Euthanasia refers to the act out of mercy of actively terminating a life or granting permission for death of a hopeless medical patient with almost no scope of recovery in a painless manner. The Oxford English Dictionary explains euthanasia as “painless killing of a patient who is suffering from an incurable disease or is in an irreversible coma”. Marvin Khol and Paul Kurtz define it as “a mode of inducing or permitting death painlessly as a relief from suffering to an incurable patient”. In common words it means assisted termination of life on authorized request. Euthanasia like an old tree which has its branches. On the basis of consent for performing euthanasia, it is categorized as Voluntary, Non-Voluntary and Involuntary Euthanasia and on the basis of the manner of performing it and the involvement of any other person, euthanasia is categorized as Active and Passive Euthanasia.

Passive Euthanasia:

Passive euthanasia means intentional withholding or withdrawing of treatment which is necessary for maintenance of a patient’s life. Passive euthanasia forbids any active participation by an individual in assisting a patient’s death.  In a 1988 paper in Moreland, Passive euthanasia has been explained as “passive euthanasia occurs when a patient is allowed to die by withholding or withdrawing the life-sustaining treatment” which idea coincides with the understanding of Scholar Dan Brocktook of passive euthanasia. In simplified manner, it refers to deliberately and on request, letting an incurable and non-recoverable patient to die by removing any artificial life support system which serves as an aid to keep the patient alive. Passive euthanasia is motivated solely by the best interest of the person who dies.

Its status in India and in other countries of the world

While various countries of the world, including Columbia, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Australia, Netherlands, India and many more have legally adopted the method of passive euthanasia to serve as a tool in the conflict of morality and medical science, there is also a long list of the countries including New Zealand, Peru, Britain and most of the parts of USA where legalizing euthanasia still remains a motion of debate.[1] When talking about the right to live and die with dignity, we talk about the entire global population, living in any corner of the world and this right urges every nation to maintain safe euthanasia laws for critical patients.

Different countries across the globe have established varied euthanasia laws governing this extremely sensitive medical condition of a human or even an animal life. Some countries like the United kingdom, consider euthanasia as a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering; in countries like Netherlands and Belgium euthanasia is understood as the termination of life by a medical expert on request of the patient and under the Dutch law the concept of assisted suicide and termination of life on request explains euthanasia.

In India, in a historic case of a rape victim in critical medical condition for 42 years kept batting for the approval of euthanasia and a peaceful death but since the of the land at the time had euthanasia illegal, she died of pneumonia in 2015.[2] Her death did not silence the voice of her appeal and The Honourable Supreme Court of India in the landmark judgement of 2018 on the same case, i.e., Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug Vs. Union of India legalized passive euthanasia by means of the withdrawal of life support to patients in a permanent vegetative state. [3]

Why should passive euthanasia be legalized?

In light of the right to live and the right to die with dignity and the morality of bringing death to a life, euthanasia above all tends to remain a question of patient’s will and must be performed based upon authorized consent only. The will of the patient in the decision of life and death throws light upon yet another important concept, i.e., living will.

The idea of ‘living will’ was proposed by the American lawyer, Louis Kutner in 1969[4], which has also been explained by the Indian judicial system as a legal document maintained by a person to record his/her will upon the manner of treatment he/she wishes to receive if ever a poor situation happens. The ‘living will’ also records the wish of a person to receiving euthanasia treatment if ever in a medical condition occurs and the one becomes incapable of giving any standing consent at the time.

Out of many unignorable reasons triggering the urge of euthanasia, there are three most crucial aspects which conclude such a difficult decision. These aspects are:

  • The psychological aspect
    There have been uncountable number of cases across the globe whereby patients with no hope of recovery when not permitted euthanasia are made to compromise with their right to live and die with dignity and forced to continue with the unwanted and not needed suffrage. The severe condition in which the patient with a permanent vegetative state due to any severe medical condition or a patient with brain-dead condition or the one suffering from irreversible coma are left is equivalent to being dead with a beating heart. For every patient living with any of these severe medical conditions, not only the right to a dignified but also a painless death shall be restored for which euthanasia serves as a tool.
  • The financial aspect
    We live in an era where the rapidly increasing prices have left the smallest of things worth heaps of money. What financial toll would the maintenance of such patients with permanent vegetative state, who would never recover from the condition, charge upon the families of such patients, is far more than words can express. Providing with the legal permission of euthanasia, at least the families of such patients could be brought out of this financial trauma and euthanasia could, in some way, ease their suffering.
  • The social aspect
    There is also a social aspect to it which revolves around the thought that ‘is our population even ready to accept euthanasia as a medical tool rather than considering it to be an aid for crime?’
    As everything comes with two sides to it, the darker side of legalizing euthanasia is considerably way more dangerous than its light and could act as a facility in crime if not taken care of. This darker side of euthanasia can only come to an end with the establishment of strong medical system and maintenance of even stronger laws for checks on crimes. With well developed system in every land of the world, the human population would finally be ready to live up to the acceptance of legal euthanasia facilitating medical sciences yet giving rise to no crime. 

Conclusion

In cases of severe, irreversible illness, where not only emotional but also financial trauma burdens the patient and the patient’s family, a tool to ease their suffering on their demand to be declared illegal would be active killing of mercy. For letting the essence of mercy to prevail, it is essential to introduce the concept of passive euthanasia along with strict set of rules and regulations to check and control its implication and functions. This is how the fundamental right to a dignified life and dignified death of every citizen in the world can be restored and the families of such critically ill patients, in state of permanent vegetative condition, can be released from constant induced pain which does not have a probable end to it.


[1] https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/india-is-among-group-nations-passive-euthanasia-legal/40421/#:~:text=Voluntary%20euthanasia%20is%20legal%20in,Montana%2C%20Colorado%20and%20Washington%20DC.

[2] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/235821/

[3] Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India & Ors on 7 March, 2011

[4] https://www.thebetterindia.com/134058/all-you-need-to-know-about-making-a-living-will/#:~:text=The%20history%20of%20living%20wills,were%20too%20ill%20to%20communicate.

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