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The Legal Analyst ISSN: 2231-5594 Volume 1, 2011, pp.

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RELIGIOUS POSTULATES OF EUTHANASIA IN INDIA


S.S. Das*
Abstract: In India, euthanasia is not permitted before the Arunas decision came, but according to some of our religious books many people adopted self willed death. In Ramayana, Shri Ram ChandraJi adopted Jal Samadhi with many of his disciples at the end. Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Maurya dynasty with his guru Jain Muni Bhadrabaahu adopted self willed death by fasting till death as a true disciple of Jainism. Vinoba Bhave also adopted self willed death by fasting till death. Mahatma Gandhi also expressed his views about death that it is one of our truest friends which delivers us from agony. He also told that he doesnt want to die of a creeping paralysis of his faculties a defeated man. Key Words: Euthanasia, Religion, India.

Introduction: Euthanasia refers to the practice of ending a life in a manner which relieves pain and suffering. According to the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, the precise definition of euthanasia is "a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering."1 Euthanasia is taken from the Greek word "eu thanatos "meaning "good death": eu (well or good) + Thanatos (death) refers to the practice of ending a life in a painless manner. The definition of euthanasia is "a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering". 2 According to the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine Committee for the development of guidelines for limiting life-prolonging interventions and providing palliative care towards the end of life, Euthanasia is the intentional killing of a patient by the direct intervention of a doctor ostensibly for the good of the patient or others.3 There is a difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide. Assisted suicide is the process by which an individual, who may be incapable, is provided with the means (drugs or equipment) to commit suicide. In some cases, the terms aid in dying or death with dignity are preferred. 4 These terms are often used to draw a distinction from suicide; in some legal jurisdictions, "suicide" (whether assisted or not) remains illegal, while "aid in dying" is permitted. The term euthanasia refers to the act of ending life in a painless manner, performed by someone other than the patient. This may include withholding common treatments resulting in death, removal of the patient from life support, or the use of lethal substances or forces to end the life of the patient. In India, euthanasia is not permitted, but according to some of our religious books many peop le adopted self willed death. In Ramayana, Shri Ram ChandraJi adopted Jal Samadhi with many of his disciples at the end. Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Maurya dynasty with his guru Jain Muni Bhadrabaahu adopted self willed death by fasting till death as a true disciple of Jainism. Vinoba Bhave also adopted self willed death by fasting till death. Mahatma Gandhi also expressed his views about death that it is one of our truest friends which delivers us from agony. He also told that he doesnt want to die of a creeping paralysis of his faculties a defeated man. Concept of Euthanasia in ancient India: The meaning of euthanasia in India is "freedom to leave," which permitted the sick and hopeless to terminate their lives. When one approaches the topic of death in the classical Indian context, one encounters three basic types of death: natural, unnatural (being killed), and self-willed (killing oneself).With reference to natural death we find that there was a strong Brahmanical Hindu prescription to live a hundred years or at least to the end of the natural life span. The

* LL.M. (H.R.) Gol d Medalist, Research Scholar, Deptt. of Human Rights, School for Legal Studies, B.B. A. (Central ) Uni versity, Lucknow; Asst. Prof., B .S.B Law College, Lucknow, INDIA.
1 2

www.wikipedia.com NM Harris, "The euthanasia debate. VOL. 147 (3) J R Army Med Corps (Oct 2001) 367370 3 Sudha Umashankar, The fight for dignity in death, The Hindu, Sunday, February 14, 2010 4 Oregon law draws a distinction between "suicide" and "aid in dying" for criminal purposes

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funeral or Shraadha rites were performed for those who died a natural death. Those men who died naturally became the ancestors who were sustained through the offerings, apparently until they were reborn. Unnatural death by being killed in battle, by murder or by accident was viewed as violent and not to be marked by Shraadha. Such death, however, was not necessarily perceived negatively, for it will be argued below that violent death, especially which of a warrior killed in battle, was religiously powerful, for it led to heaven or deification. Besides natural death and unnatural violent death, there also developed an acceptance of some forms of self-willed death. This category of self-willed death included three different types: suicide, voluntary death and religious self-willed death. Suicide, which was prohibited, was self-willed death prompted by passion, depression, or uncontrollable circumstance. Voluntary death, found mainly in the surroundings of the warriors in ancient times, was a way to avoid calamity, as when a warrior avoided capture and a woman avoided rape or slavery by a conqueror through self-willed death. It was a substitute for heroic death in battle that resulted in heaven and a way to allow peaceful succession to the throne. Self-willed death was closely related both historically and conceptually to heroic. It was carefully distinguished from suicide, that is, passionate, self-willed death for reasons neither heroic nor religious. Different historical periods had very different understandings of the importance of the natural life span and the acceptability of heroic, voluntary death and religious, self willed death. Much sympathy was expressed in classical India for euthanasia in the sense of "freedom to leave" by one suffering from a seemingly incurable disease or by one facing very devastating old age. Accordingly, euthanasia belonged to the category of self-willed death and was never formally viewed as mercy killing of another person. Once there was a formal public declaration of the intent to perform self-willed death, helping the person was allowed. The individual's choice and willpower to implement it was therefore mandatory when euthanasia was accepted in the pre modern Indian context. The phenomenon of euthanasia was intimately related to the larger categories of heroic and religious self-willed death, which, in turn, were related to the yet broader context of violence and nonviolence in Indian society and religion. There was positive evaluation of euthanasia in classical Hinduism, self-willed death to which it was closely associated, despite the attempt to define parameters. The god Agni is requested to bless the person who sacrifices with good children descendants and long life 5 . Agni is called the universal protector of bodies 6 and is addressed as the source of strength who will give abundant vitality and exemption from sickness and danger7 . The Lord himself is praised as the imperishable life principle 8 and the physician-gods are beseeched for good health 9 . With such life affirmation, which is related to the sacrament of life but never quite becomes a principle of the sacredness of life, it does not surprise us to find no discussion of suicide in the Veda. And yet, by the 6th century B.C., we find clues that suicide is becoming an issue in society at the same time that the categories of voluntary death and religious, self willed death are emerging. Death in battle has been rewarded by most cultures, for there must be some compensation for male risk in battle beyond immediate material gain. Thus Rig Veda 10 , which may be dated to about the same period as the Brahmas and the rise of kingdoms in the Gangetic plain, suggests "that warriors losing life in battle reap the same rewards that those who make gifts of a thousand cows in sacrifices secure". 11 Later texts indicate that death in battle is equated to participation in the Brahmanical sacrifice itself. "Shantiparva 12 states that just as those who join in the bath of the king at the end of the Ashvamedha sacrifice are

5 6

Rig-Veda III , 3.7 Ibid. , 4.2 7 Ibid , 18.4 8 Ibid. , 19.1 9 Rig-Veda , 1.89.4 10 X.154.3 (Atharvaveda 18.2.17) 11 Kane 1973, 58 12 78.31

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purified of all sins, so all soldiers killed in battle become pure by the destruction of their sins" 13 . Texts such as Bhagavad Gita 14 ; Manu15 ; Yajurveda 16 , and so on make the reward clearly heaven. Warriors who were defeated in battle sometimes killed themselves out of shame or killed themselves rather than be captured. Similarly, women escaped capture, rape, and slavery at the time of defeat or after their husbands were killed in battle or when they killed themselves by willing their own death. With great violence in society, we can predict a high level of violence against women. As Sagan says, the power to take a woman away from another man is a double oppression 17 , that is, it is an act of aggression against the woman and the man. These forms of self-willed death no doubt were also associated with heaven. The Sati was also one of the forms of self willed death in ancient India. It was mainly practiced by the women of Royal families who preferred death instead of ill-treatment when their husbands died in battle fields. This practice was made compulsory for every woman. Glorification of suicide is becoming fated because it often plays with sentiments of emotionally struck women resulting to suicide which is still a crime. Because of those reasons abetment for suicide has to be illegal and can effectively control both Dowry deaths and also Sati. If attainment of heaven was guaranteed by heroic death in battle or self-willed death to escape capture, rape, and slavery, then, according to this cultural logic, warriors who did not die in or because of battle, despite a valiant career, were not rewarded. Even Bhimaparva 17.11 states that "it is a sinful act for a Kshatriya to die in his house from some disease; the ancient code of conduct for him is that he should meet death from steel"18 . We may guess that this insistence on death in battle would seem unjust to those old warriors who had risked their lives on numerous occasions in battle, yet survived. Furthermore, it is likely that the close association of voluntary death toward the end of life leading to the attainment of heaven or deification, in turn, posited the seeds for the general connection of self-willed death and the religious goal, heaven or enlightenment, in the emergent religions of the Gangetic plain, hence the phenomenon of religious self willed death. One common form of self-willed death became death by fire, for the Vedic sacrificial cult was focused on fire, understood as the god Agni. A sacrifice may have a specific purpose, to obtain something by giving something up e.g. Ravan bestowed his head ten times and got same. So also voluntary, self-willed death became linked to a specific purpose, to obtain freedom (heaven or liberation) through an act of omnipotence, involving the sacrifice of the self. In that self-inflicted, human sacrifice gave omnipotence and the power over life itself, this negative power, as it were, could lead to the idea of liberation from violence. Specific Position of Euthanasia in Indian Religious Text: The concept of willed death is common among Jain monks, and Hindus who believe in re-incarnation. Hindus believe that if someone dies it is just a transformation. 19 The Hindu: There are several Hindu points of view on euthanasia. In Hinduism a person who commits euthanasia does not attain moksha i.e. salvation. 20 Most Hindus would say that a doctor should not accept a patient's request for euthanasia since this will cause the soul and body to be separated at an unnatural time. The result will damage the karma of both doctor and patient. Other Hindus believe that euthanasia cannot be allowed because it breaches the teaching of ahimsa. However, some Hindus say that by helping to end a painful life a person is performing a good deed and so fulfilling their moral obligations. Hindu views of euthanasia and suicide are grounded in the doctrines of karma, moksha, and ahimsa. Karma is the net consequence of good and bad deeds in a person's life, which then determines the nature of the next life. Ongoing accumulation of bad karma prevents moksha,
13 14

Kane III, 1973, 58 II.31-37 15 VII. 87-89 16 I. 324 17 1985, 291 18 Kane 1973, 3:58; see also Salyaparva 5.32, Shanti 97.23 and 25 19 M eena M enon, To Die, to sleep no more, Published in M agazine, The Hindu, Sunday, February 14, 2010 20 Hindustan Times, Sunday, April 8, 2007, Lucknow; Gray M atter; Right to Die?

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or liberation from the cycle of rebirth, which is the ultimate goal of Hinduism. Ahimsa is a fundamental principle in Indian religions, and means doing harm to no other being. Suicide is generally prohibited in Hinduism, on the basis that it disrupts the timing of the cycle of death and rebirth and therefore yields bad karma. According to one Hindu website, suicide is not approved in Hinduism because human life is a precious opportunity to attain higher states of rebirth that even the gods envy. It also has dreadful consequences for the soul's spiritual progress. According to Hindu beliefs, if a person commits suicide, he neither goes to the hell nor the heaven, but remains in the earth consciousness as a bad spirit and wanders aimlessly till he completes his actual and allotted life time. There after he goes to hell and suffers more severely. In the end he returns to the earth again to complete his previous karma and start from there once again. Suicide puts an individual's spiritual clock in reverse. 21 One exception to the Hindu prohibition of suicide is the practice of prayopavesa, or fasting to death. Prayopavesa is not regarded as suicide because it is natural and non-violent, and is acceptable only for spiritually advanced people under specified circumstances. BBC Religion & Ethics provides the following example of prayopavesa: Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a Hindu leader born in California, took his own life by prayopavesa in November 2001. After finding that he had untreatable intestinal cancer the Satguru meditated for several days and then announced that he would accept pain-killing treatment only and would undertake prayopavesa - taking water, but no food. He died on the 32nd day of his self-imposed fast. 22 Given the complex history of suicide in Indian thought and the various considerations outlined above, not all Hindus agree on whether euthanasia should be permitted. In the end, there are two Hindu views of euthanasia: From one perspective, a person who helps other end a painful life and thereby reduces suffering is doing a good deed and will gain good karma. From the other perspective, euthanasia interrupts the timing of the cycle of rebirth and both the doctor and patient will take on bad karma as a result. 23 Jain: Jainism has taught the art of choosing death. A Jain ritual, Santhara, promotes voluntary death by fasting. 24 Jain acharyas have given 17 types of death. These are Avici-marana, Avadhimarana, Atyantikamarana, Vasarta-marana, Valana-marana, Antahsalya-marana, Tadhava-marana, Bala-marana, Panditamarana, Balpandita-marana, Chadmastha-marana, Kevali-marana, Vaihayasa-marana, Guddhapristhamarana, Bhaktapratyakhyana-marana, Inginta-marana, and Padopagamana-marana. Life and death are considered as mysterious events. If a soul has not fixed up its next birth before death, then it gets the life (birth) according to the thoughts going on in his mind at the ultimate moment of death. Ordinary souls taking to Raudra and Aarta dhyana (meditation) get a low type of birth while souls undertaking dharma or Shukla dhyana (higher types - good types of dhyana) get a birth in a higher class. The earlier Jain acharyas, while contemplating death, said that in one Samaya (time) a soul can have one, three, four or five deaths. The soul having Kevali marana attains to liberation and becomes free from the cycle of life and death. Buddhist: There are no monographs devoted specifically to euthanasia in Buddhism. Relevant issues are the distinction between various forms of euthanasia (e.g. "active" and "passive") and the use of drugs in palliative care which may cloud the mind and interfere with the process of dying. Kapleau's volume The Wheel of Life and Death (1989) contains a short discussion of euthanasia in conjunction with suicide and it is suggested that Buddhism would reject the practice of either.

1. The process of dying is spiritually important, and should not be disrupted 2. Valuing human beings as equal just because they are human beings has clear implications for thinking about euthanasia.
Islamic: Muslims are against euthanasia. They believe that all human life is sacred because it is given by Allah, and Allah chooses how long each person will live. Human beings should not interfere in this. In Islam, since both body and soul are considered property of God, euthanasia is forbidden.
21 22

Hinduism FAQ: "Hinduism and Suicide." Hindu "Euthanasia and Suicide: The Hindu View." BBC Religion & Ethics. 23 Ibid. 24 Hindustan Times, Sunday, April 8, 2007, Lucknow; Gray M atter; Right to Die?

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Masudal Hasan wrote in his digest of Holy Quran wrote that Islam is against suicide. He wrote that the person who commits suicide runs away from the obligation of God. The following verse of the Quran tells the same thing Make not your own hands contribute to your destruction. Do not kill or destroy yourself.25 It is Allah who gave you life: who will cause you to die26 According to Islam, life is very precious and it also mentions that one should devote his life in serving oneself. It also mentions that Allah has given us life to serve other people. The value of our life can be judged from the following versions of the Quran Whoever kills one person without any person having been killed or for creating disturbances on earth he kills the whole human race and one who saves a life he saves the whole human race.27 Sikhism: Sikhs have a high respect for life which they see as a gift from God. Most Sikhs are against euthanasia, as they believe that the timing of birth and death should be left in God's hands. The Sikh Gurus rejected suicide as an interference in God's plan. Suffering, they said, was part of the operation of karma, and human beings should not only accept it without complaint but act so as to make the best of the situation that karma has given them. This is not absolute. Sikhism believes that life is a gift from God, but it also teaches that we have a duty to use life in a responsible way. Therefore Sikhs thinking euthanasia for themselves or others should look at the whole picture, and make appropriate distinctions between ending life, and not artificially prolonging a terminal state. Judaism: The Jewish tradition regards the preservation of human life as one of its supreme moral values and forbids doing anything that might shorten life. However, it does not require doctors to make dying last longer than it naturally would. Concluding Observation: There is a great opposition for euthanasia from several religious groups and institutions. According to them its not granting right to die rather it should be called right to kill. One of the misconceptions about euthanasia is that it is some shady business. People find it against the medical ethics. But the medical technology has developed a lot. All diseases have become curable. Many religious groups and the other people in the society feel that instead of encouraging a patient to end his painful life, the medical practitioners should encourage the patients to lead their painful life with strength which should be moral as well as physical. The people who oppose euthanasia also say that when suicide is not allowed then euthanasia should also not be allowed. There are so many with end-of-life situations and if euthanasia is legalized, then a lot of people would benefit. Dr. Huilgol is fighting for the right to die because of his strong liberal values. 28 In a recent development, India has its first guidelines for taking irrevocably ill patients off treatment and life support. Senior doctors at Post Graduate Institution of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh and lawyers in the Punjab have worked together on guidelines for letting patients who have suffered brain stem death or are in deep coma die in dignity and peace. All doctors in the hospital will receive new guidelines. The recommendations are that the patients with irreversible, end-stage diseases should not linger for months on assisted ventilation. 29 After Aruna Sanbaugs Case our Apex Court stamped on passive euthanasia with established procedure under Art.226. In this decision Supreme Court Paid respect to the 196th Report of Law Commission of India Which recommended passive euthanasia. In fact, many people in India do not understand technical terms related to euthanasia, but they generally oppose it and they have great misconceptions regarding euthanasia that it is misleading and has many side effects. But many people in India practice passive euthanasia either knowingly or unknowingly. They often argue with the medical - practitioners to withhold the life supporting measures if the condition of the patient is very critical and there is no hope left of his living. Hence, this shows that, however, passive euthanasia is being practiced in India but this is not legal. Like a man needs clothes to beautify himself, in the same way euthanasia needs a legal proforma.
25 26

Quran V: 29 Quran XXII: 66 27 Quran V: 32 28 M eena M enon, To die, to sleep no more, The Hindu, February 14, 2010 29 Docs frame death with dignity norms, Sunday Hindustan Times, Lucknow, October 10, 2010, at10

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