The term euthanasia originates from the Greek ‘eu’ meaning ‘good’ and ‘Thanatos’ meaning ‘death’. It means death with ease or death with a good end. The word, in general, can mean the act of killing someone without just cause, but more specifically it means gently ending one’s own life to relieve pain and suffering. This occurs when a doctor administers medication that would otherwise have caused the patient’s demise by natural expiration. In the process of doing this, he or she has ended the patient’s life and usually doesn’t receive any criminal consequences even though it is not an act of self-defense. For the most part, euthanasia is looked upon favorably in today’s society and is suggested to be looked upon as an act of mercy.

Euthanasia can be divided into two categories: active and passive. Active euthanasia is when a doctor gives a lethal injection to eliminate a patient’s pain and suffering. Passive euthanasia occurs when a doctor refuses to perform any further treatment that results in the patient’s death but does not directly kill the patient or administer medicine that would end his life. An example of passive euthanasia would include turning off someone’s life support machine or not giving someone medication to help them breathe because without it they would die from the incurable disease they are suffering from.


In the past, a few people had advocated euthanasia such as Peter Singer, the ethicist who has authored “The Life You Can Save” which was written in response to an article in “The New York Times” where a man wanted to be put out of his misery by having his life support machine turned off. Professor Singer and many others felt that this person should be allowed to die on his terms. While many of these people still believe that this is what euthanasia is, others dispute it. Regardless, the case raised many questions on euthanasia and the arguments pro and con. In this debate and all debates where euthanasia is discussed, it is important to note that not everyone agrees with the same philosophy on whether or not it should be done. While this has caused some controversy in every debate that has come up in the past, what can be agreed upon is that people who have a terminal illness that will not get better want their last days to be pleasant ones. Therefore, some people believe euthanasia can relieve patients from their pain and suffering.


India is one of the countries in which passive euthanasia has been legalized. According to the article by Deutsche Welle, “the Supreme Court of India has issued guidelines for passive euthanasia”. Passive Euthanasia is when the doctor ceases treatment and lets their patient die without any intervention. The Supreme Court of India has made it legal to practice passive euthanasia if the patient declares so with a written document; if they are declared mentally incompetent or unconscious; or if they have an incurable disease that leads to protracted suffering or death. In India, passive euthanasia – the practice of keeping on life support machines so that a terminally ill patient’s life can be ended without them suffering – has been legalized for those who are terminally ill and have had irreversible brain damage since 31 December 2017.

This is the first time in history that passive euthanasia has been sanctioned by law in any country. It has been done against the backdrop of a shortage of medical staff to attend to patients making active euthanasia difficult or impossible to implement. With this adoption, India joins other countries like Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Luxembourg which have also legalized the practice.

The term “passive euthanasia” was coined by Dr. Joseph Fletcher in his book, “Morals and Medicine”, published in 1958. He defined passive euthanasia as the withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention of causing death; the action that causes death is not the withholding of the treatment but the fatal disease itself. The concept thus focuses on killing versus letting die, with an intended outcome (death). This is opposed to active euthanasia, which directly causes death through intervention (either drug or direct act), as opposed to waiting for natural causes to bring about death. Active euthanasia, under current Indian law, is not legal. The Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha in March 2014 but had not been cleared by the Lok Sabha till the end of the Indian parliament’s term in June 2014. Nevertheless, due to a Supreme Court ruling on 15 March 2011 (Aruna Shanbaug v/s. Union of India), Nurse Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug was brutally sodomized and molested by a ward boy. As a result, she was paralyzed, deaf, blind, and in a vegetative state for 42 years. Later, in 2015, Shanbaug died of severe pneumonia at the age of 66. In 2007, journalist Pinki Virani filed a written motion to legalize euthanasia, which would help put Aruna out of her misery.

Passive euthanasia was already legal in India when the Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha had not become law. This means that it is legal under Indian law to withdraw life support from a patient who has been certified as terminally ill and suffering from a condition in which there is no possibility of recovery. In such a case, the withdrawal of treatment does not need direct intervention from a doctor and can be carried out by nurses and other medical staff. The legal opinion of the Law Commission supported this position. Further, in 1997, the Parliamentary Standing Committee called for the passage of a new law on passive euthanasia to cover all aspects of it. The “Medical Council of India” also issued an expert opinion that there is no need for a detailed legislative framework for passive euthanasia. The council also said that emphasis should be placed on improving palliative care in India; it opined that the practice is acceptable if made part of palliative care.


The Supreme Court allowed passive euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug case, ruling that the right to die with dignity is an important aspect of the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Article 21 recognizes the nobility as its fundamental institution, so everyone must reserve the right to decide whether to receive medical intervention in the event of a terminal illness. The privilege of living with dignity involves self-sufficiency in the process of dying and choosing not to suffer pain and suffering

Author’s Name: Yashasri Tulluru (Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Hyderabad)


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