Passive Euthanasia is Legal, Says Supreme Court

The Verdict:

The Supreme Court of India has put a legal stamp over the ‘Living Will’ or ‘Passive Euthanasia’. On 9 May 2018, the bench of five-judges of the Apex court took a historic decision. It nodded that the life-support system and medication can be removed for the terminally-ill patient. It is sanctioned for the cases wherein the patient is slipped into an irreversible comatose (or coma).

Supreme Court

Do you know what the Passive Euthanasia is?

It’s an incurable state of the patient wherein the medical treatment is stopped so that he/she can die quickly with dignity. This permission will be sanctioned to those whose medical state is irreversible.

Was it happened legally earlier in India?  

Yes, the Supreme Court (SC) has recognized the passive euthanasia in Shanbaug’s case in 2011. She was put on the life-support system. She was incapable of making any decision about her life. Neither did she respond positively to the medical treatment.

How did the issue of ‘Living Will’ or ‘Passive Euthanasia’ stem?

The controversy began with a PIL of an NGO in 2005. The NGO raised a voice for a common cause. It explicitly stated that the patient should be permitted to die willingly, if he/she has no silver lining left to live more.  The disease should be incurable and the patient should reach the point from where he/she can’t recover.

The NGO wanted to take nod of the Centre over the same. It advocated that the “right to die with dignity” should be declared as a Fundamental Right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

On 16 January, 2006, the SC ordered the Delhi Medical Council (DMC) to file a document in the same context. Rather than DMC, the Law Commission presented a bill over the same. Also, it suggested that such pleas should be the matter of concern of the High Court. It should quiz and cross-question while taking expert’s views.

This issue carried forward in January, 2007. The SC, this time, asked the political parties to file documents in this regard. Meanwhile, a petition from the relatives of almost lifeless nurse, Aruna Shanbaug, sought permission for the passive euthanasia. She was in the vegetative state. Finally, the SC granted its permission for the same on 7 March, 2011.

The hearing continued in 2014 also. After a long time, DMC finally came with the copy of the proceedings of an international workshop for a policy statement on Euthanasia in India. But the Apex Court reserved its verdict.

On 15 July, 2014, a five-judge bench took a concrete step. It ordered all states, UTs and also, deployed senior advocate T R Andhyarujina as an impartial advisor to the court (amicus curiae). Unfortunately, he died when the case was in the processing.

The arguments frequently held over the same topic in 2016 and 2017. The hearing was led by CJI Dipak Misra. On March 19, 2018 the verdict was out. It was in favour of the terminally-ill patient. The SC finally recognized the ‘Living Will’ to be made if someone can’t live anymore.

The Central Government was concerned over the criminal attempts in the mask of legal permission. Therefore, it has decided to decriminalize the attempt. Till now, such doing is a punishable offence under Section 309 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). And, the criminal can be sentenced for one year.

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