Whether a person should be allowed to remain in such a stage of incurable passivity suffering from pain and anguish in the name of Hippocratic Oath[1].

The question that arises is should he not be allowed to cross the doors of life and enter, painlessly and with dignity, into the dark tunnel of death where after it is said that there is resplendence.

In delineation of such an issue, there emerges the question in law – should he or she be given such treatment which has come into existence with the passage of time and progress of medical technology so that he/she exists possibly not realizing what happens around him/her or should his/her individual dignity be sustained with concern by smoothening the process of dying.

The legal question does not singularly remain in the set framework of law or, for that matter, morality or dilemma of the doctors but also encapsulates social values and the family mind-set to make a resolute decision which ultimately is a cause of concern for all.

There is also another perspective to it. A family may not desire to go ahead with the process of treatment but is compelled to do so under social pressure especially in a different milieu, and in the case of an individual, there remains a fear of being branded that he/she, in spite of being able to provide the necessary treatment to the patient, has chosen not to do so.

The social psyche constantly makes him/her feel guilty. The collective puts him at the crossroads between socially carved out ‘meaningful guilt’ and his constant sense of rationality and individual responsibility. There has to be a legalistic approach which is essential to clear the maze and instil awareness that gradually melts the idea of ‘meaningful guilt’ and ushers in an act of ‘affirmative human purpose’ that puts humanness on a high pedestal.

There is yet another aspect. In an action of this nature, there can be abuse by the beneficiaries who desire that the patient’s heart should stop so that his property is inherited in promptitude and in such a situation, the treating physicians are also scared of collusion that may invite the wrath of criminal law as well as social stigma. The medical, social and ethical apprehensions further cloud their mind to take a decision.

The apprehension, the cultural stigma, the social reprehension, the allegation of conspiracy, the ethical dilemma and eventually the shadow between the individual desire and the collective expression distances the reality and it is here that the law has to have an entry to alleviate the agony of the individual and dispel the collective attributes and perceptions so that the imbroglio is clear.

Therefore, the heart of the matter is whether the law permits for accelerating the process of dying sans suffering when life is on the path of inevitable decay and if so, at what stage and to what extent. The said issue warrants delineation from various perspectives.


Views as expressed by Supreme Court in the case of ‘Common Cause v. Union of India (2018)’

[1] The Hippocratic Oath is an oath of ethics historically taken by physicians. It is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear, by a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards. The oath is the earliest expression of medical ethics in the Western world, establishing several principles of medical ethics which remain of paramount significance today.