The debate on euthanasia is not new in India however, the society as well the judiciary is not ready to accept it as morally or legally right. This article looks into the practice of Thalaikuthal, a sort of masked euthanasia practiced in Tamil Nadu and the legality of the same.
The word “Euthanasia” derived from the Greek word ‘euthanatos’, literally means “easy death”. In legal parlance, it is the act of killing a person suffering from an incurable or painful disease out of mercy. Simply stated, euthanasia is the act of prematurely ending a person’s life either by direct intervention (active euthanasia), or by not providing life-prolonging measures (passive euthanasia). Such act maybe expressly or impliedly requested by such person (voluntary euthanasia) or maybe without the consent of such person who is able to give consent (in-voluntary euthanasia). Another type of euthanasia is non-voluntary euthanasia where the person in question is in such a state that he is unable to give consent (eg. Person in vegetative state).
The debate on Euthanasia is not new. However, the death of ArunaRamchandraShanbaug has re-ignited its flame. Euthanasia is a crime in India. Even abetment to suicide is a non-bailable offence that entails a maximum ten-year jail term. The ArunaShanbaug case was the first decision that legalized passive euthanasia in particular cases. The primary question before the court in this case was whether prolonging the life of Ms. Shanbaug by life-support treatment was in her best interest? Thereby the legality of passive euthanasia was in question before the court. Another ancillary though equally important question is of consent - who should be allowed to take decision for patients who cannot themselves take such a decision?
Noting the “unfortunate low level of ethical standards to which our society has descended” and “that unscrupulous persons who wish to inherit the property of someone may not get him eliminated by some crooked method”, the court gave the decision-making powers to the patient’s care-givers/next-friend/relatives in the bona-fide interest of the patient.
Another interesting yet not well-known facet of euthanasia prevalent in India is that of Thalaikuthal. This practice takes place in southern India, primarily in the district of Virudhunagar and neighboring areas.Thalaikuthalis a customary practice of forced euthanasia. The procedure involves making the elderly starve for a few days, then giving them an oil bath. After this, tender coconut oil forced down the elderly causing renal failure and ultimately death.
One may think that poverty is the primary reason behind the practice, but Thalaikuthalhappens across caste, class& religion. It is a closely guarded practice and the consent of the person being subject to it is generally not taken. Most relatives are informed a day before the procedure in order to enable them to meet the elderly person and pay their respects one last time.
Among the numerous justifications put forth, the most unusual is that of convenience of children and other family members. The convenience justification is that - once children leave the village and relocate to urban areas in search for job opportunities, it is difficult for them to return frequently to tend to their ailing parents. Hence for convenience of such children and other family members, the elderly are mercilessly killed.
There is a dichotomy in the way Thalaikuthalis looked at. Some call it “punya” or God’s work, others call it a sin. The elderly are generally accepting of the practice. This may be because it is something that they have seen happen to their parents and grandparents as well. Government schemes such as Old Age Pension may be able to curb the practice but their implementation is lackadaisical.
As the law stands today, Thalaikuthalis illegal and must be probed and checked. Even though it may be alleged as euthanasia, it is simply homicide.
For more on Thalaikuthal, you can watch the following documentary titled – Masked Euthanasia -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwlRve3cRbE
 RANDOM HOUSE WEBSTER’S UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY 670 (2d ed. 2001)
 BLACKS LAW DICTIONARY – pg 654 – 4th edition – Euthanasia - The act or practice of painlessly putting to death persons suffering from incurable and distressing disease. An easy or agreeable death.
 S. 306 IPC
AIR 2011 SC 1290
id. Para 102
 Virudhunagar is a district in Tamil Nadu near Madurai.