• The Law Gazette

Mercy Killing: Is it a necessity?

The most popular term for Mercy killing is “euthanasia”. Mercy killing means intentionally ending a life to relieve that person from suffering an incurable as well as painful disease. When we come across the word killing the thing that strikes our mind is illegal and something brutal but the word mercy before it add a whole another and different meaning to it and that’s what makes the difference and makes it legal. When a patient is terminally ill or in a vegetative state in “pain” with no sign of improvement at all that’s the time when mercy killing is practiced as the patient's survival is not only painful for him/ her but also makes the lives of their family miserable by seeing their loved ones in such pain and suffering. But the only limitation that remains is, one should not misuse the term by killing someone in good condition under the name of mercy killing for their own benefit or in order to take revenge.


In India on 9th March 2018, the Supreme Court of India legalized passive euthanasia by means of withdrawal of the life support system of the patient in a permanent vegetative state. This decision was made as a part of the verdict in the case of Aruna Shanbaug V. Union of India[1], Aruna was an Indian nurse who was the center of attention in the court case of Euthanasia(Mercy Killing). She was in a vegetative state for 37 years as a result of sexual assault. In 1973, while working as a junior nurse in a memorial hospital she was sexually assaulted by a ward boy. He attacked her when she was changing clothes, then chocked her with a dog chain and sodomized her. This cut off oxygen to her brain, resulting in a brain stem contusion, cervical cord injury, and cortical blindness, she was discovered the next morning and was in a vegetative state since then for 37 years when the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for euthanasia filed by journalist Pinki Virani. The court rejected the plea on the 7th of March 2011. However, in its landmark opinion, it allowed passive euthanasia in India. Voluntary euthanasia is illegal in India and is punishable under the Indian Penal Code, Section 309[2].


Active euthanasia, in which a person deliberately and directly causes the patient’s death through an overdose of drugs such as pain killers or lethal injection as they believe they are easing the suffering of patients.

Passive euthanasia, on the other hand, does not directly take a patient’s life but they just allow them to die or they stop doing something that is keeping the patient alive, such as withdrawal of medical equipment for say ventilator or disconnecting a feeding tube with the premeditated intention of causing a patient’s death.

Voluntary Euthanasia is known as assisted suicide occurs at the request of the person who is suffering. It takes place when the person is capable of making their own decisions requests to end their own life. This included the situation when the patient refuses to eat, take medical treatments, or request that life-supporting systems be switched off.

Involuntary euthanasia occurs when the person is unconscious or unable to speak (for example, a very young child or a person of extremely low intelligence) to make a meaningful choice between life & death, an appropriate person takes the decision on their behalf.


Different countries have different laws regarding practicing mercy killing. In India, passive euthanasia is legal under strict guidelines. Patients must consent through a living will, and must be either terminally ill or in a vegetative state. If all the provisions are followed only then euthanasia is allowed. Active euthanasia is not allowed as it is a crime in India (also in most parts of the world) under the Indian penal code section 302[3 ] or 304[4].

In the Netherlands, euthanasia is sanctioned by the passage of termination of life on request and assisted suicide act, 2002 providing well-defined guidelines for the same. This was the first European country to legalize euthanasia.

In Switzerland, assisted suicide can be performed by non-physicians. All forms of active euthanasia like administering lethal injection remain prohibited in Switzerland. Swiss law only allows providing means to commit suicide, and reasons for doing so must not be based on self-interest (such as monetary gain).

In Luxembourg, both active as well as assisted suicide is legal. The law grants doctors legal immunity from penal sanctions and civil lawsuits if they directly kill or assist the suicide of a person with a grave and incurable condition who has repeatedly asked to die.

In USA, active euthanasia is a criminal offence punishable under law except in the states of Oregon, Washington, and Montana where strict guidelines are in place in order to practice euthanasia.


In Dennis Kumar v. State of Tamil Nadu, Dennis asked permission from the district collector to grant euthanasia for his infant son who was suffering from an unknown disease since birth. Unable to bear his expenses and see his son’s suffering, he asked permission for euthanasia. As we can see here the euthanasia was necessary as the infant was in pain and suffering since birth and keeping him alive would have made him as well as his family suffer as it has already been six years for him being in a vegetative state.

In Schiavo Schindler v. Schiavo Case 5 which was a right to die case in the United States involving Theresa a woman who was in an irreversible persistent vegetative state living her life with the help of feeding tube when her husband and legal guardian demanded euthanasia but this decision was challenged by her parents and it caused seven years delay before Schiavo’s feeding tube was ultimately removed.

Mr. Narayan and Mrs. Iravati Lavate, an elderly couple wrote to the president seeking permission for “active euthanasia” they had no major medical problems. But the fear of falling terminally ill and of not being able to contribute to the society made them write the president seeking permission of mercy killing.

Mercy killing is sometimes necessary because it relieves the patient from the pain and suffering which he/she might be going through. Once even a journalist said “I’m not afraid of being dead. I’m just afraid of what you have to go through to get their” [6].


We all have the “right to life” as well as “right to die with dignity”[7] as our fundamental right. Here, “right to life embraces not only physical existence but also the quality of life”[8] but right to die or attempt to commit suicide is still a crime in India punishable under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code which is punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year[9] and that’s the reason voluntary euthanasia is still considered an offence in India. But if a person is suffering from pain, doesn’t he still have the right to die? here, the question remains unanswered as some people still think that letting a person die is itself a crime. But is it, if a person himself wants to die in order to end his own sufferings? Because I feel living life in severe pain is even worse than death. For example, a young woman with chronic obstructive disease told me that “I myself want to be in control as long as I can, I don’t want doctors and nurses controlling me”. She was in great pain and throughout the interview, she said that she wanted to be in control and emphasized her right to choose. This gives us a fair idea that sometimes people with a terminal illness would rather like to die “peacefully” than clinging on to life filled with intractable pain and suffering.


[1] Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug V. Union of India, (2011) 4 SCC 454

[2] Sec 309(Bare Act) attempt to commit suicide, punishable with imprisonment or fine or both

[3] Sec 302(Bare Act)Punishment for murder

[4] Sec 304(Bare Act)Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder

[5] Schiavo Schindler V. Schiavo Case, 0233/2005 , MANUPATRA

[6] Pamela Bone a reputed journalist

[7] Article 21 of the Indian Constitution

[8] State of Himachal Pradesh and anr .V. Umed Ram Sharma

[9] Subs. By Act 8 of 1882, s. 7, for “and also be liable to fine”


This blog has been authored by Shivani Satyen Mundada who is a 1st Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at ILS Law College, Pune.