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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Final choice: Editorial on assisted death and a person’s right to die

The idea of a person choosing to die does not yet have uniform social receptivity; the choice itself is also rarely uncomplicated

The Editorial Board Published 22.02.24, 07:55 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo

Death is the only certainty in life. Logically, then, the right to die should be complementary to the right to life. Around the world, such a right is being exercised, mostly to end the sufferings related to infirmity or disease. The former Dutch prime minister, Dries van Agt, and his wife, Eugenie van Agt-Krekelberg, recently opted for ‘duo euthanasia’ in the Netherlands, one of the 10 or so countries where euthanasia and/or assisted suicide is legal. But this right is by no means universal. The idea of a person choosing to die does not yet have uniform social receptivity; the choice itself is also rarely uncomplicated. The tensions that inform law, ethics and individual autonomy make active euthanasia and assisted suicide fraught issues. Countries like Switzerland, Colombia and Spain are among those that consider assisted suicide to be a legitimate way of ending life. This stems from the recognition of individual liberty and an assurance that the provision can be availed only by those with a rational desire to end their life as a last resort: in Switzerland the permission for assisted suicide is preceded by several rounds of counselling and medical examination. The right to die with dignity is an important consideration but the requisite legal and medical safeguards are not available in a number of nations. For instance, in a densely-populated country like India, with overburdened healthcare and judicial systems, it would be difficult to monitor cases of assisted death, opening up the possibility of misuse by those who stand to benefit from it.

The Supreme Court of India permitted passive euthanasia in 2018 subject to a ‘living will’ by patients, but it has maintained that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution does not include the right to die. However, in Ja­nu­ary last year, the highest court also highlighted the “right to die with dignity” for terminally ill patients. Rapid social and attendant psychological transformations are leading to reflections whether the right to die with dignity should be remain limited in its scope. In 2018, an elderly couple in Mumbai petitioned the president to allow them to die, not because they were ill but because they were tired of living. The discourse will continue to gather strength, given that ageing societies — India is among them — are being confronted with the economic and social costs of care-giving along with the implosion of traditional support structures and the receding of the welfare State.

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