Euthanasia: Walking Towards Legalization of Right to Die

Repoter : News Room
Published: 22 August, 2021 11:23 pm
Mahmodur Rahman

Mahmodur Rahman:

In our country, the palliative care and quality of life issues in patients with terminal illnesses like advanced cancer and AIDS have become an important concern for clinicians. Along with this the concern has arisen about the controversial issue-euthanasia or “mercy –killing” of terminally ill patients. Advocates of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) feel that an individual’s right to autonomy automatically entitles him to choose a painless and respectful death.Proponents demanding right for patients regarding how and when they die have been increasingly vocal during recent years, sparked by the highly publicized cases of Jack Kevorkian, Timothy Quill, and Aruna Shanbaug . These cases have centered on the plight of dying patients with serious illnesses.

However,here in this article i have tried to discuss the definitions,contents and debates regarding euthanasia and the current scenario in Bangladesh.

The English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon coined the phrase “euthanasia” early in the 17th century. Euthanasia is derived from the Greek word eu, meaning “good” and thanatos meaning “death,” and early on signified a “good” or “easy” death.[[1]] Euthanasia is defined as the administration of a lethal agent by another person to a patient for the purpose of relieving the patient’s intolerable and incurable suffering.[[2]] There are three types of active euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is one form of active euthanasia which is performed at the request of the patient. Involuntary euthanasia, also known as “mercy killing,” involves taking the life of a patient who has not requested for it, with the intent of relieving his pain and suffering. In nonvoluntary euthanasia, the process is carried out even though the patient is not in a position to give consent.[[3]]

The arguments supporting legalization of euthanasia is substantial. Proponents perceive it as an act of humanity toward the terminally ill patient. They believe the patient and family should not be forced to suffer through a long and painful death, even if the only way to alleviate the suffering is through suicide. According to the proponents it becomes ethical and justified when the quality of life of the terminally ill patient becomes so low that death remains the only justifiable means to relieve suffering. Lack of any justifiable means of recovery and the dying patient himself making the choice to end his life are conditions which make euthanasia more justifiable.To the advocate for euthanasia, legalization of it is a natural extension of patient’s autonomy and the right to determine what treatments are accepted or refused. Arguments in favor of legalization of it are typically premised on the assumption that requests for euthanasia is “rational” decision, given the circumstances of terminal illness, pain, increased disability, and fears of becoming (or continuing to be) a burden to family and friends. Given the possibility that these symptoms and circumstances may not be relieved, even with aggressive palliative care and social services, the decision to hasten one’s death may seem rational.The advocates for euthanasia also presents other arguments like,Human beings should have the right to be able to decide when and how they die (self-determination).

Euthanasia enables a person to die with dignity and in control of their situation.

Death is a private matter and the state should not interfere with the individual’s right to die.

It is expensive to keep people alive when there is no cure for their illness. Euthanasia would release precious resources to treat people who could live.

Family and friends would be spared the pain of seeing their loved one suffer a long-drawn-out death.

Society permits animals to be put down as an act of kindness when they are suffering; the same treatment should be available to humans.

However it’s unfortunate that Euthanasia despite having above mentioned strong arguments is a crime in Bangladesh.As to perform euthanasia or mercy killing a doctor must have an intention to kill the patient and if he perform that than it will fall under first clause of section 300 of the Penal Code of Bangladesh, 1860 but if there is any valid consent from the deceased person then exception 5 of the said section will be applicable and punishable under section 304 of the Penal Code for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. But it is for active or positive euthanasia where the patient gives consents to death and section 300 exceptions 5 of the Penal Code will be applicable. In our Bangladeshi law right to suicide is not an available right and it is punishable under the section 305 , 306 and 309 of the Penal Code, 1860. One of our important fundamental rights is right to life. Article 32 of our constitution promises us the protection of right to life and personal liberty. However, Mahmudul Islam a learned advocate of Supreme Court in his book stated that, the right to life does not include any right to die rather it provides living with dignity. ‘In Washington vs. Glucksberg and Vacco vs. Quill, the American Supreme Court rejected the plea of unconstitutionality of state laws prohibiting aiding a suicide including physician assisted suicide.’However the debate over this topic continued amongst the people on various platforms and soon in the path breaking judgment in an Indian case the case of Aruna Shaunbaug v. Union of India (2011), the Supreme Court with its 5 judge bench remarked the relevance of the concept of euthanasia and the right to life can be interpreted as the right to a life of dignity and worth. This much awaited judgment which in itself was a hard battle, helped push the awareness quotient on this topic and the debate for the legalization of passive euthanasia thus entered into our society, but with the exception of it being practiced only on terminally ill patients and through the removal of medical life support. The recent case of Aruna Shaunbaug generated a plethora of opinions and also made us look towards the status of the law in other countries and states which have legalized the practice.

As of June 2021, euthanasia is legal in Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and several states of Australia (Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia). Euthanasia was briefly legal in the Northern Territory between 1996 and 1997, but was overturned by a federal law . The Constitutional Court of Colombia legalized euthanasia, but its government has not legislated or regulated the practice yet. In 2021, a Peruvian court allowed euthanasia for a single person, Ana Estrada.

After all the above discussion it can be stated that it is proven that euthanasia provides a way to relieve the individual from the mammoth of sufferings as though they are alive on a burning pyre of intolerable pain. It gives the right to the beings to evaluate their essence of life and live and end it in a dignified manner without any force. The underlying principle of this is the consent and choice of the person. The battle of euthanasia as a legal remedy is tough and complex. It needs careful examination of the status quo of Bangladesh,the mindset of the people, the acceptance and the presence of required equipment,the religious sentiments. If at all, it were to be legalized in Bangladesh, there would be a requirement of stringent and well-structured laws that would guarantee the consent and will of the individual, monitoring the failure of all medical resources and methods to revive the person, intentions of the caregivers and medical officials, proper ways to ensure that no abuse of the law takes place and the review of circumstances under which the euthanasia is to be allowed.

[1] Nadeau R. Gentles, Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: The Current Debate. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited; 1995. Charting the Legal Trends; p. 727. [Google Scholar]

[2] Decisions near the end of life. Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs: American Medical Association. JAMA. 1992;267:2229–33. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

[3] Yount L. Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. New York: Facts On File, Inc; 2000. [Google Scholar]

Writer: Student, Department of Law, Jagannath University.