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Right to Life and Right to Die

The “sanctity of life” means that humanity is more sacred than the rest of creation, is an expression that in recent decades became commonplace in the moral and political debates while forming State law and declaring judgment. The cases of Aruna Shanbaug and Irom Sharmila in India have triggered a wide range of bioethical issues regarding ‘the right to life’ and ‘right to die. In both these cases, it is observed the embodiment and mediate senses of life and law in their lives. The Indian court delivered a landmark judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug vs Union of India case by giving its judgment in approval of passive euthanasia. 

It stated that Aruna was not legitimately dead but was alive through Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) for 38 years (Chatterjee, 2015). And the cases related to euthanasia coincide with the question of morality. Article 21 of the Indian constitution protects ‘the Right to life and Personal Liberty of every citizen in the State. 

The debate around the ‘right to die’ has been a persistent question about ‘the right to life, where one argument asserts that if a citizen of India has a right to live and should also die. Despite this, the right to die argument becomes inadequate because it conflicts with the laws against committing suicide in Section 309 of the Indian Penal code, which criminalizes the act of suicide.

 In Shanbaug’s case, law mediates with the debate related to passive euthanasia and chances of her being better in the future. The reconciliation considering passive euthanasia was focused on the argument was based on her period supporting external mechanical help, best-interest debate, who needs the bed more debate, etc. The court gave the judgment in favour of passive euthanasia, which embodied Aruna Shanbaug for similar cases in the future. With Irom Sharmila, the embodiment and mediate senses of life and law enhances differently because she violates the law for the protest, then she transforms from the goddess to a prostitute. 

In 2000, Irom Sharmila starved or fasted to protest against the illegality of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur. While Sharmila was on her fast for sixteen years, she gave up consuming food naturally, not only she gave up eating but all additional necessities of her body. The law intervenes in her life, which made it more complicated for her as it leads to restricting all necessities of her body. For example, the body’s sexual requirements, being pregnant, etc. She did not intend to commit suicide from fasting but to compel the government to remove the AFSPA from Manipur, and underneath, she wanted to get on with a normal living (Safi, 2018). 

In her path of fasting, she would regularly be arrested or sent to the hospital. Due to which the embodiment of her life and mediated by the law was constantly unstable and vulnerable. While observing the act of fasting, which eventually could lead to suicide, she was forcefully given external help to stay alive. However, she was not eating naturally but was given supplements through medical help. Sharmila became a figure of symbol for the people of Manipur as a goddess. Even her parents declared her to be sacrificed as if she was an object which could be given up. Her principal object was to bring all the Manipuri people together to oppose to organize and force the government to abolish the military power act (Safi, 2018). She could be dead if the external medical help is withdrawn by the State. 

Gradually, the people of Manipur assumed from her of living a political liability alone for everyone. The people thought she will eventually die and become a symbol to represent the State. Her dead body would have made a presence felt through which she made her political statement. Toward her fasting for sixteen years, Sharmila saw the authenticity of the society where her struggle for the people of Manipur restricted her from becoming only a symbol. The law intervenes in her decision to keep her alive and, because of this, made fasting continues for sixteen long periods. 

Despite struggling for years, she was inclined to give up her life for the well-being of the people, and in return, her giving up the right to life and personal liberty did not encourage the people to stand together against the demand of removing AFSPA. It further complicates her conclusion objectives of fasting protest against being an object of glory. Sharmila’s decision of discontinuing fasting was not a circumstance which the people could ‘ever’ predict. She was assumed to enhance the body to represent the State and political scenario of Manipur. But the change in the path to achieving her aim made the people of Manipur vulnerable. 

The life of Sharmila changes by breaking her protest by eating honey, and from the goddess, she becomes a prostitute to the people of Manipur. Suicide is an ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ mark in society, but Sharmila was a martyr before her death because people could not imagine the shift in her decision. 

However, with Aruna Shanbaug, the ethical structure for arguing for or against euthanasia is complicated because an individual commenting on suicide is not considered a member of society. Although emotions of all involved parties may cause complications for individual cases when looking at euthanasia as an option for death. Here, it questions Shanbaug’s condition and chances to be stable again in the future, which again coincides with the question of morality in India’s constitution. The State tries its best to give all necessary help to the patient like Aruna, who could not exist, without external help. 

Considering the constitutional morality of India, the court declaring Shanbaug’s case (passive euthanasia) to be an exculpation of omissions because then this act would not be ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ from society. Considering the constitutional morality of India, the court declaring Shanbaug’s case (passive euthanasia) to be an exculpation of omissions because then this act would not be ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ from society (Rao, 2011). The constitutional morality coincides with the intention which can indeed be given a special extended meaning, including foreseen likely effects, which does not do much harm in the law of torts but has had to be carefully expelled from the law of murder or suicide by a long course of decisions and enactment. The intention is a fact, not merely a word. 

When we discuss Aruna Shanbaug’s case related to life and law, another person associated is Sohanlal (the rapist of Shanbaug and a ‘sweeper’) becomes his crucial character and his intention. According to the report published by Indian Express, Sohanlal was imprisoned for seven years and had spent the full punishment of his action (Chatterjee, 2015). Different media reports do not seem to coincide with the fact that the punishment of Sohanlal was not sufficient. Being a ‘sweeper’ and belonging to a lower class of the society, his life and family were in a constant vulnerability position even after completing his full sentences.

 Hypothetically, if he were sentenced to life imprisonment, then would his life be unstable? The judgment of his sentence looked into the factor of intention, and he did not intend to murder Shanbaug but was completely out of rage and anger. It was how the law mediates Sohanlal’s life by embodying his intention of the crime. 

Hence, the lives of both Aruna Shanbaug and Irom Sharmila were embodied and mediated senses of life and law at different levels of their lives. That, by interacting with a hard fact that all humans will eventually face, and sometimes not willingly in the struggle of asking for the right to die. It further complicates the question of morality and sanctity of life. Where society played a massive role while differentiating righteous acts.


Also, read: https://thesocialtalks.com/world/written-in-blood-and-bones-the-tragic-story-of-the-hazaras/

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