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Assisted Suicide

Assisted Suicide- Relevance for UPSC Exam

General Studies IV- Ethics.

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A renowned French filmmaker died earlier this week by assisted suicide at the age of 91.

Assisted Suicide: Definition

  • Assisted suicide and euthanasia are practices under which a person intentionally ends their life with active assistance from others.
  • These have long been contentious topics of debate as they involve a complex set of moral, ethical and in some cases, religious questions.
  • Several European nations, some states in Australia and Colombia in South America allow assisted suicide and euthanasia under certain circumstances.

Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: The Difference

  • Euthanasia is the act of intentionally ending a life to relieve suffering – for example a lethal injection administered by a doctor.
  • Intentionally helping another person to kill themselves is known as assisted suicide.
  • This can include providing someone with strong sedatives with which to end their life or buying them a ticket to Switzerland (where assisted suicide is legal) to end their life
  • The practice of passive euthanasia involves simply stopping lifesaving treatment or medical intervention with the consent of the patient or a family member or a close friend representing the patient.Active euthanasia, which is legal in only a few countries, entails the use of substances to end the life of the patient.

Assisted suicide and India

  • In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India legalised passive euthanasia in 2018, stating that it was a matter of ‘living will’.
  • According to the judgment, an adult in his conscious mind is permitted to refuse medical treatment or voluntarily decide not to take medical treatment to embrace death in a natural way, under certain conditions.
  • In the 538-page judgment, the court laid down a set of guidelines for ‘living will’ and defined passive euthanasia and euthanasia as well.
  • It also laid down guidelines for ‘living will’ made by terminally ill patients who beforehand know about their chances of slipping into a permanent vegetative state.
  • The court specifically stated that the rights of a patient, in such cases, would not fall out of the purview of Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Indian Constitution.

The case of Aruna Shanbaug

  • While ruling on a petition on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug Case, the court had allowed passive euthanasia for the nurse who had spent decades in a vegetative state.
  • Shanbaug had become central to debates on the legality of right to die and euthanasia in India.
  • Shanbaug died of pneumonia in March 2015 at the age of 66, 42 years of which she had spent in a room at KEM Hospital in Mumbai, after a brutal rape left her in a permanent vegetative state.

Recent cases in India

  • In 2018, an old couple from Mumbai wrote to then President Kovind, seeking permission for active euthanasia or assisted suicide though neither of them suffered from a life-threatening ailment.
  • The couple stated in their plea that they had lived a happy life and didn’t want to depend on hospitals for old age ailments.

Justification for Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide

  • It provides a way to relieve extreme pain.
  • Euthanasia can save life of many other people by donation of vital organs.


  • Euthanasia can be misused.
  • Many psychiatrists are of the opinion that a terminally ill person or someone who is old and suffering from an incurable disease is often not in the right frame of mind to take a call.
  • Family members deciding on behalf of the patient can also lead to abuse of the law legalizing euthanasia as it can be due to some personal interest.


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