Mercy Killing


    In News

    After the mother applies for mercy killing, the child dies of a rare blood disease.


    • A nine-year-old boy died of a rare blood disease just within two hours after his mother had applied for his mercy killing in court. 
    • Mercy Killing, also known as Euthanasia  is an act of providing painless death to a suffering individual who wouldn’t survive if medical facilities are removed from their help.
    • A famous case, Aruna Shanbaug was heard in the Supreme Court (SC) and final judgement came in the year 2018 making the Right to die in a dignified way a part of Right to Life under Article 21.
    • Only passive Euthenasia is allowed in India by the Supreme Court.



    • The term Euthanasia comes from two Ancient Greek words: ‘Eu’ means ‘Good’, and ‘thantos’ means ‘death’, so Euthanasia means good death. 
    • Euthanasia can be also divided into two types according to means of death.
    • Active Euthanasia: It is also known as ‘Positive Euthanasia’ or ‘Aggressive Euthanasia’. It refers to causing intentional death of a human being by direct intervention. It is a direct action performed to end useless life and a meaningless existence. 
      • For example by giving lethal doses of a drug or by giving a lethal injection. Active euthanasia is usually a quicker means of causing death and all forms of active euthanasia are illegal.
    • Passive Euthanasia:It is also known as ‘Negative Euthanasia’ or ‘Non-Aggressive Euthanasia’. It is intentionally causing death by not providing essential, necessary and ordinary care or food and water. It implies discontinuing, withdrawing or removing artificial life support systems. Passive euthanasia is usually slower and more uncomfortable than active. Most forms of voluntary, passive and some instance of non-voluntary, passive euthanasia are legal.


    Aruna Shanbaug Case

    • Aruna Shanbaug was assaulted on November 27, 1973 which left her blind, paralysed and speechless and she went into a persistent vegetative state. 
    • On 16th December 2009, the Supreme Court of India accepted a plea to end her life. The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice and Justices agreed to examine the merits of the petition and sought responses from the Union Government, Commissioner of Mumbai Police and Dean of KEM Hospital.
    • However, SC turned down the mercy killing petition and laid out guidelines for passive euthanasia. 
    • This case has changed forever India’s approach to the contentious issue of euthanasia. The verdict on her case allows passive euthanasia contingent upon circumstances. 


    Global Stands

    • England: Euthanasia is illegal in the UK. Euthanasia is punishable by law and can carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Assisted suicide is also illegal in the UK
    • Australia: The Northern Territory of Australia became the first country to legalize euthanasia by passing the Rights of the Terminally ILL Act, 1996. Although it is a crime in most Australian states to assist euthanasia, prosecution have been rare. 
    • Tasmania: In 2005, a nurse was convicted of assisting in the death of her mother and father who were both suffering from incurable illnesses. She was sentenced to two and half years in jail but the judge later suspended the conviction because he believed the community did not want the woman put behind bars. This sparked debate about decriminalization of euthanasia.
    • Albania: Euthanasia was legalized in Albania in 1999, it was stated that any form of voluntary euthanasia was legal under the rights of the Terminally ILL act of 1995. Passive euthanasia is considered legal if three or more family members consent to the decisions.
    • Belgium: Euthanasia was made legal 2002. 
    • Netherlands: Netherlands is the first country in the world to legalise both euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2002.
    • Canada: In Canada, patients have the right to refuse life sustaining treatments (Passive Euthenasia) but they do not have the right to demand for Active euthanasia or assisted suicide. 
    • U.S.A: Euthanasia has been made totally illegal by the United States Supreme Court in the cases Washington v. Glucksberg and Vacco v. Quill. Only in Oregon, a state in America, physician assisted suicide has been legalized in 1994 under Death and Dignity Act. In April 2005, California State legislative committee approved a bill and has become 2nd state to legalise assisted suicide.
    • Swizerland: Here, euthanasia is illegal but physician assisted suicide has been made legal. However decriminalizing euthanasia was tried in 1997 but it recommended where a non- physician helper would have to be prosecuted whereas the physician would not.


    Rights, Cases and other Legal Provisions in India

    • Article 21 includes the right to die or not first came into consideration in the case State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Shripati Dubal. It was held in this case by the Bombay High Court that ‘right to life’ also includes ‘right to die’ and Section 309 was struck down. The court clearly said in this case that the right to die is not unnatural; it is just uncommon and abnormal. Also the court mentioned many instances in which a person may want to end his life. 
    • This was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case P. Rathinam v. Union of India. However in the case Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab it was held by the five judge bench of the Supreme Court that the “right to life” guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution does not include the “right to die”. The court clearly mentioned in this case that Article 21 only guarantees right to life and personal liberty and in no case can the right to die be included in it. In India, like almost in other countries, euthanasia has no legal aspect. 
    • Every act of aiding and abetting the commission of suicide are punished under the section 306 of the I.P.C
    • Distinguishing euthanasia from suicide, Justice Lodha in Naresh Maratra Sakhee vs Union of India, observed that, “suicide by its nature is an act of self-killing or self-destruction, an act of terminating one’s own act and without the aid or assistance of any other human agency. 
    • “Mercy killing is nothing but homicide, whatever the circumstances in which it is affected. Unless it is specifically accepted it cannot be an offence. Indian Penal Code further punishes not only abetment of homicide, but also abetment of suicide”.



    • End of Pain: Euthanasia provides a way to relieve the intolerably extreme pain and suffering of an individual. It relieves the terminally ill people from a lingering death.
    • Respecting Person’s Choice: The essence of human life is to live a dignified life and to force the person to live in an undignified way is against the person’s choice. Thus, it expresses the choice of a person which is a fundamental principle.
    • Treatment for others: In many developing and underdeveloped countries like India, there is a lack of funds. There is a shortage of hospital space. So, the energy of doctors and hospital beds can be used for those people whose life can be saved instead of continuing the life of those who want to die. 
    • Dignified Death: Article 21 of the Indian Constitution clearly provides for living with dignity. A person has a right to live a life with at least minimum dignity and if that standard is falling below that minimum level then a person should be given a right to end his life. 
    • Addressing Mental Agony: The motive behind this is to help rather than harm. It not only relieves the unbearable pain of a patient but also relieves the relatives of a patient from the mental agony.



    • Medical Ethics: Medical ethics call for nursing, caregiving and healing and not ending the life of the patient. In the present time, medical science is advancing at a great pace making even the most incurable diseases curable today. Thus instead of encouraging a patient to end his life, the medical practitioners have to encourage the patients to lead their painful life with strength. 
    • Moral Wrong: Taking a life is morally and ethically wrong. The value of life can never be undermined.
    • Vulnerable will become more prone to it: Groups that represent disabled people are against the legalisation of euthanasia on the ground that such groups of vulnerable people would feel obliged to opt for euthanasia as they may see themselves as a burden to society.
    • Suicide v/s Euthenasia:  When suicide is not allowed then euthanasia should also not be allowed. A person commits suicide when he goes into a state of depression and has no hope from the life. Similar is the situation when a person asks for euthanasia. But such a tendency can be lessened by proper care of such patients and showing hope in them. 
    • X-Factor: Miracles do happen in our society especially when it is a matter of life and death, there are examples of patients coming out of coma after years and we should not forget human life is all about hope.


    Way Forward

    • Achieving peace with God and pain control are nearly identical in importance for patients and bereaved family members.
    • The futile treatment that doesn’t have any reasonable chance of doing good – other than keeping the patient from dying could be stopped to lessen the agony of the family.
    • At the same time, allowing voluntary euthanasia makes it easier to commit murder, since the perpetrators can disguise it as active voluntary euthanasia. That must be avoided.
    • We should look at the brighter side of it than thinking of it being abused.

    Sources: HT