Eighty years old and determined to die, C.A. Thomas regularly makes the steamy, 43-mile bus ride from his southern Indian village to a nearby town to see his lawyer about his assisted-suicide case.

The retired school principal is challenging Indian law and beliefs by insisting that he should be able to choose when he dies - a crusade that appalls his wife, Eliamma."I definitely do not support him here," she said in an interview this week. "I feel he should die according to God's will."

Thomas was too deaf to speak to an Associated Press reporter by telephone from Thrissur, his village 1,100 miles south of New Delhi. He was quoted as telling a local reporter from the Times of India, "I must go at my will."

According to his lawyer, Vincent Panikulangara, Thomas is healthy, financially secure and content with his family life, but believes he has lived long enough.

Panikulangara submitted a petition on Thomas' behalf in June demanding that doctors in state hospitals across the country help even healthy people die when they are ready.

Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are illegal in India. Even attempted suicide is punishable by jail terms or fines. But Thomas' case is different, his lawyer contends, defining what his client wants as "voluntary death" rather than mercy killing.

Panikulangara argues that voluntary relinquishment of the body has been exalted for centuries in India. The court petition he prepared for Thomas cites an episode from the Hindu epic Mahabharata in which the great warrior Bhishma dies on a bed of arrows after being granted the right to determine the time and manner of his death by his father, Santanu.