Every convict has the right to die in peace and with dignity
Last week, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to explain why it shouldn’t ban hanging by the neck. The court wanted to know if it’s time we replaced hanging with modern, dignified practices. The observation was made while hearing a private petition filed by lawyer Rishi Malhotra, seeking a more dignified form of death penalty. The Centre has to reply within three weeks.
This debate is decades old. Human rights activists have been campaigning against it for some time now, seeking more humane and dignified ways to end a life given the advancements in science. The SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, dropped enough hints that if need be it would be ready to review its 1984 decision endorsing hanging as the legal method of executing the death penalty. Several studies have pointed out that hanging is an painful and barbaric method. Malhotra’s petition says that an individual’s right to life, which the Constitution proudly upholds, includes the right to die with dignity. And hanging by any measure is not the ideal way to let a citizen die. It seems the apex court wants the legislature to think of alternatives to hanging. Even though prevalent in some 60 countries, not many consider it civilised.
The SC, however, doesn’t think methods such as shooting or lethal injections are alternatives, as was suggested in the petition. It said said shooting is a practice authoritarian regimes promote; and research has shown injections lead to severe suffering of about 45 minutes before an individual dies. The Modi government must use the opportunity to take a humane approach and seek opinion from legal experts, doctors and rights activists. Better, it should use the SC intervention to formulate favourable public opinion towards abolishing the death penalty as a whole. The SC can also play a big role by providing necessary legal and philosophical guidance on the issue. Getting rid of hanging could be a great start.