Supreme Court allows passive euthanasia in landmark judgment

Supreme Court allows passive euthanasia in landmark judgment

The Supreme Court's order - hailed as "historic" by petitioners - means medical treatment can be withdrawn to hasten a person's death, a practice known as passive euthanasia.

Hence, the court, Justice Sikri said, is rightly in favour of the right to die with dignity. Thus accordingly, a person has an option to give it in writing that in case he/she is in incurable coma stage or a vegetative state, they should be allowed to end their lives, if they wish to.

"The Apex Court defined passive euthanasia in the Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India & Ors (March 7, 2011), entails withholding of medical treatment for continuance of life, e.g. withholding of antibiotics where without giving it a patient is likely to die".

The board will then decide if passive euthania can be given to the patient.

A five judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court, headed by CJI Dipak Misra, said passive euthanasia is permissible since a person can not be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she doesn't wish to live.

Is passive euthanasia better? . The Supreme Court has a year ago found merit in the concept of "living will", also termed as "advance medical directive", paving the way for further discussion.

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Active Euthanasia is legal only in a very few countries but many countries allow passive euthanasia in specific circumstances. With the living will, there is no chance of euthanasia getting misused by relatives of patient who may want him to die irrespective of his medical condition. In a "living will", a person can make a statement in advance that their life should not be prolonged by putting them on a ventilator or an artificial support system.

The hospital where such patient is admitted, would set up a medical board consisting of the head of the treating department and at least three experts from the fields of general medicine, cardiology, neurology, nephrology, psychiatry or oncology having at least 20 years of experience.

The Indian Constitution recognises the right to life with dignity but not the right to die.

The 241st report of the Law Commission states that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards and there is a proposed law-Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006 in this regard.

The SC judgement today says of passive euthanasia, 'It does not cause death since by itself, it does not sustain life'.

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