• Caucus The Group Discussion Forum of Hindu College

Should ‘Right to Die’ must be a Human Right?

“Brittany Maynard, an American resident was diagnosed with Brain Cancer- Stage 4 glioblastoma in 2014. The terminally ill Brittany decided to move to Oregon to take advantage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity law which was then not legal in California. She chose to end her life with dignity when the time was right for her. Later, she died in her home from a lethal dose of Barbiturates. The death of Brittany Maynard resulted into a huge controversy in the state of California but the movement soon indulged the state and public into the question of making the practice legal. Finally, assisted death was legalised in California and several other states of the U.S.”

John Stuart Mill said that over oneself, over one’s body and mind, the individual is sovereign. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of universe and the mystery of human life. While right to live with dignity has been regarded the utmost importance, the question of right to die with dignity becoming a human right has also struck the limelight. Although countries across the world have updated their status on the living will, euthanasia and assisted death, yet there remain majority of countries which are unknown to the concept. While, there are only handful of countries which have legalised active euthanasia which involves direct and deliberate ways of causing death to a person in the form of drug overdose etc., several nations have opted for passive euthanasia or Orthothanasia through withdrawing and withholding treatment. Countries have largely regarded passive euthanasia to be morally better than active euthanasia. Netherlands being the initiator to legalize euthanasia in 2002 was then followed by even greater proportion of countries such as Canada, Luxemburg, Belgium, Switzerland which traced the same path soon after. India too joined the league of select nations with assertive response to passive euthanasia in 2018, but active euthanasia still remains illegal.

But, euthanasia as a concept and a practice was not something which was unforeseen; it had its roots dug deep inside. Ancient books have been evidences that euthanasia existed long before it was formally discovered. In earlier times, frankincense was given to patients with incurable diseases in Israel. Even in India, terminally ill patients were often drowned in the waters of Ganges. But, even after such evidences, it still remains a question! Religion has been a significant influence for refuting several rational arguments. Judaism equated assisted suicide and euthanasia with murder as it considered life to be sacred and Bible too clearly mentioned that everybody has equal right to live and thus death should not be a choice. Yet, with the evolution of the concept, there were vital changes in the framework of this practice. Although, the legal practice differs across countries but the ethics remain constant for almost all the nations.

In addition to that, Nazi Euthanasia has been a major point of discussion since Hitler considered the lives of physically disabled, mentally deficient, homosexual Germans to be “unworthy of life.” Also, there were historians such as Plato who wrote: “Mentally and physically challenged persons should be left to death; they do not have the right to live” which is why the practice of euthanasia was condemned for long, yet it must be understood that the two practices were different in their motives and grounds. With the end of 19th century, this right was massively discussed among the states of U.S and Europe leading to setting up of a legal framework and ethical system for the right to die with dignity.

The proponents of euthanasia believe that the terminally ill patients have the right to choose their death and to avoid suffering on the grounds of personal autonomy, liberty and humanity. Adding to that, patients with terminal illness and increased disability should have the choice to terminate their life with dignity given that the symptoms and conditions cannot be relieved, even with aggressive care and social service. Further, right to die acts as psychological insurance i.e. the patient can control the manner and timing of their death which helps them to get rid of the painful suffering and diminishing the anxiety associated to the dying process.

The legal and medical communities fear that if euthanasia is legalized in all the countries, it would soon end up on a “slippery slope”, eventually resulting into non terminal and involuntary euthanasia. Also, one’s inclination towards suicidal tendencies could be more of undetected psychiatric disorder such as depression rather than being a choice. With the existing system of physicians in the countries, one cannot clearly make a distinction whether it was a voluntary decision or unwanted participation of physicians. Lack of proper healthcare facilities in most of the countries still remain a lurking terror, in the absence of which euthanasia remains impractical. Adding to this, people from lower socio-economic strata would be pushed to consider euthanasia as their only option due to lack of affordability. The question of considering mental disorders under this right for the basis and considering euthanasia for infants with incurable diseases still remains debatable.

Although, the cons outnumber the pros to the right to die with dignity but clearly they still don’t pay justice to the right to freedom and liberty to choose. Misuse of the right and ethics of the medical institutions remain significant considerations before it becomes a law for which the Public, Government, Physicians have to do their “homework” in order to truly make the decisions of an individual sovereign.