Science

Supreme Court of India legalise passive euthanasia, sets guidelines

Supreme Court of India legalise passive euthanasia, sets guidelines

A journalist activist Pinki Virani had filed a plea in 2009 seeking that Aruna Shanbaug, who lived in a vegetative state for decades after a brutal rape, be allowed the dignity to die through passive euthanasia.

"To deprive an individual of dignity at the end of life is to deprive him of meaningful existence", the Bench said.

The term "passive euthanasia" used by the Supreme Court in its verdict on Aruna Shanbaug's case is defined as the taking out of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten a terminally ill patient's death on Mar 7, 2011. A five-judge constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, has decided that the "living will" of a person, who is suffering from a terminal disease and in his/her last stage of life with no chance of recovery, should be recognised. Apart from Justice Misra, the Bench comprised of Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan.

The top court said the right to refuse medical treatment "stands on a different pedestal as compared to suicide, physician assisted suicide or even euthanasia". He said "living will" or advanced directive (as it is called in some countries) allows a citizen the ability to exercise a fundamental right - to decide in advance what should be done to his or her body when he or she is not in a position to make that decision. However, the bench had then hinted that it could allow the execution of "living will" in cases of passive euthanasia under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

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It also includes authorising a family to switch off life support in case a medical board declared that a patient is beyond medical help. With the latest decision, the SC approved living will for terminally ill patients.

Although the Centre had opposed recognition of "living will" debating the knowledge and awareness of a given patient of possible future medical advancements, it cited a previous law that would allow passive euthanasia with certain safeguards, namely the Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006.

However, it was emphasised that living could only be executed after the opinion of the medical board certifying on the condition of the patient.

However, both suicide and refusal to take treatment in case of terminal ailment shall result in the same consequences, that is death, "yet refusal to take treatment by itself can not amount to suicide", it said. Former nurse Aruna Shanbaug, a victim of a brutal sexual assault in 1973, had been in a persistent vegetative state in Mumbai's KEM Hospital for 36 years.


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