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UNLOCKING THE DEBATES: EXAMINING THE LEGAL ENVIRONMENT OF EUTHANASIA

INTRODUCTION

Euthanasia is one of the most controversial and strongly debated topics concerning end-of-life. It revolves around the concept of purposefully ending someone’s life to spare them from the ongoing agony and excruciating pain brought on by a terminal sickness or condition. Euthanasia’s etymology sheds light on the term’s definition. Like most honourable and deserving philosophical concepts, euthanasia has its roots in Ancient Greek; it is derived from the words ‘Eu’, which means “well,” and ‘Thanatos’, which means “death.” [1]Thus, euthanasia is the act of trying to provide a good death for someone who would otherwise have to endure a much more terrible death; hence, the name “mercy killing”.[2]

The practice of euthanasia poses several issues, including those related to the value of human life, individual autonomy, the right to die, and other issues like the function of medical experts and their obligations.

TRACING THE COMPLICATED AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING HISTORY OF EUTHANASIA

For the majority of the history of medicine, euthanasia has been viewed as immoral. Recently, it became legal in various nations, including some in Australasia.[3] We outline the recent history of euthanasia, giving close attention to how the expansion of criteria affects the underprivileged, the elderly, and other vulnerable sections of society in nations where it is currently allowed.

Ancient Greece believed that suicide was a respectable and honourable method to terminate one’s life if one had been experiencing unrelenting pain and suffering. [4] Socrates, for instance, took hemlock on purpose as a form of “Euthanasia” to relieve himself of the anguish and suffering brought on by a protracted illness.[5] However, as societal norms changed, Euthanasia started to be viewed as a morally and ethically troubling issue. The sanctity of life was important to European Christians, who thought that higher authorities should have the power to decide who lives and who dies.

The mediaeval ages saw euthanasia as a sin, and this notion persisted until the Enlightenment when technological advances started to take shape and people started to see euthanasia from more informed perspectives. Many nations have recently made serious efforts to comprehend the idea of euthanasia. In the year 2002, the Netherlands became the first nation to legalise euthanasia. Subsequently, Belgium, the United States, Colombia, and Canada followed.[6]

THE ARUNA SHAUNBAUG CASE: A VEHICLE FOR BRINGING THE TERM AND CONCEPT OF EUTHANASIA IN INDIA

Before the Aruna Shaunbaug case, the general Indian population was not familiar with the phrase “euthanasia.” This case played a significant role in encouraging Indian individuals to take part in active discussions and start conversations about the topic.

The Supreme Court of India issued a ground-breaking decision in the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v Union of India[7] (hereafter Aruna), allowing “passive euthanasia” in some situations, on March 7, 2011.[8] The supreme court’s judgement established some rules for the acceptance and use of passive euthanasia.

The act of intentionally withholding a substance or procedure that might otherwise prolong life to intentionally end the life of another person is known as passive euthanasia. This action is motivated only by the best interests of the person who dies.[9]

After the Aruna Shaunbaug case, the court established that passive euthanasia is an option for patients who are in a lifelong vegetative condition or who have little hope of recovery.[10] The decision to allow it, however, needs to be approved by both the high court and certified medical specialists. The judgement in this case is regarded as a landmark judgement since it establishes crucial standards and principles to protect patients’ interests as well as recognising the right to die with dignity.

BREAKING THE TABOO: EXPLORING THE NEED FOR EUTHANASIA LEGALISATION

Since euthanasia entails the decision to end a person’s life, it has been controversial to legalise the practice. Many slippery slope arguments have been used to express fears and worries that euthanasia in its different forms could eventually lead to harsh and inhumane practices. Euthanasia continues to polarise discourse regarding medical ethics. However, there are some of the factors which have contributed to the legalisation of euthanasia:

Societal Causes: I contend that the situation of those who want to end their lives is not the main factor. Instead, it is a series of significant adjustments to our postmodern, secular, Western, and democratic cultures. Some of these changes are the result of trends that have been developing since the 18th century, but it has only been recently that they have all coexisted and that each has decisively conquered its opposing or countervailing trend.

The goal of this article is to present a rough map—a somewhat impressionistic overview—of the cultural elements that have influenced the campaign to legalise euthanasia and need to be examined far more thoroughly than is possible here.[11] It is important to keep in mind that there are still powerful social forces opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia, most notably the Catholic Church, churches that practise Evangelical Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, and Islam.[12]

Individualism: We live in civilizations that place a strong emphasis on individualism—possibly to the exclusion of any genuine sense of community, even when faced with death and sorrow. A verdict that euthanasia is appropriate is likely to be reached if a very individualistic approach is taken to the issue, especially in a society that prioritises the ideals of human autonomy and self-determination (Somerville 1993).[13]

In these societies, there appears to be either a complete lack of awareness or possibly a denial that extreme individualism can threaten the collective societal fabric, the intangible foundation upon which society is built. Individualism that is unchecked by a desire to preserve and advance the community will inevitably lead to its demise. Euthanasia is therefore a byproduct of individualism, but it would also be promoted if it were legalised, at least in terms of the balance between individualism and community.

International Precedents: The establishment of precedents by other nations is crucial to the legalisation of euthanasia. The experiences and results of these nations that have legalised euthanasia are often followed by other nations, allowing them to get a thorough understanding of how euthanasia affects individuals. It also aids in establishing rules for the appropriate application of euthanasia.

STRIKING A BALANCE BETWEEN THE RIGHT TO LIFE AND THE RIGHT TO DIE

In the context of our society, striking a balance between the right to life and death is a difficult task, and we frequently run into problems and roadblocks in the process. Respecting a person’s autonomy as an individual while still defending their life becomes a pressing concern[14]. While some jurisdictions respect a person’s autonomy and allow them to choose whether or not to continue living when they are dealing with a prolonged illness that causes ongoing pain and shows no signs of improvement, others do not typically do so and instead prioritise preserving people’s lives.

In the end, finding a balance between the two necessitates making a thoughtful choice while taking into account various factors, including societal values, personal autonomy, medical ethics, and legal considerations. The discussion over this equilibrium is still ongoing, and no one side has come to a consensus. Instead, the parties involved tend to offer different explanations.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it is clear that the legalisation of euthanasia as a way to end life when a person is experiencing unbearable pain and suffering is an extremely contentious topic. Regarding the legalisation of euthanasia, there is no single, widely accepted position, and the subject is extremely complicated.

While some nations embrace the legalisation of euthanasia, others do not because they believe in the sanctity of life. The legal climate around this topic varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

The decision to legalise euthanasia should ultimately be able to find a balance between social values, human needs, and individual autonomy. For a better understanding of the needs and desires of the people, the various stakeholders should come together and conduct discussions on this issue. More extensive discussions about euthanasia will increase public awareness of the issue and aid in finding a widely accepted solution.

Author(s) Name: Kashish Agarwala (National Law University, Delhi)

Reference(s):

[1] Mark Dimmock and Andrew Fisher, Ethics for A-level (Saint Philip Street Press 2019)

[2] Ibid

[3] Chris Gale and Yoram Barak, ‘Euthanasia, medically assisted dying or assisted suicide: time for psychiatrists to say no’ (2019) 28 (1) Australas Psychiatry <https://doi.org/10.1177/1039856219878645> accessed 20 July 2023

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Radbound M. Marijinissen, Kenneth Chambaere and Richard C. Oude Voshaar ,  Euthanasia in Dementia: A Narrative Review of Legislation and Practices in the Netherlands and Belgium [2022] Vol-13 Frontiers

[7] Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v Union of India (2011) 4 SCC 454

[8]  ‘India and Euthanasia the poignant case of Aruna Shanbaug’ (2011)19(4) Medical Law Review 646–656

[9] Ibid

[10] Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v Union of India (2011) 4 SCC 454

[11] Ajay Kumar et al., ‘Euthanasia: A debate- For and Against’ (2021) 55(2) Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, Education and Research

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Suresh Bada Math and Santosh K. Chaturvedi, ‘Euthanasia: Right to life vs right to die’ (2012) 136(6) The Indian Journal of Medical Research 899–902