What Does Supreme Court Permitting Passive Euthanasia Mean?

How sexual assault victim Aruna Shanbaug's case started the national debate on euthanasia

How sexual assault victim Aruna Shanbaug's case started the national debate on euthanasia

Passive euthanasia is the deliberate withdrawal of medical treatment with the intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.

"At that time the Supreme Court said they will look at this whole passive euthanasia thing again, which they have, and they have upheld their own judgement", said activist and author Pinki Virani.

The passing of the 2018 verdict gains precedence for the Supreme Court has postulated a mechanism for passive euthanasia by allowing people to have a living will. "For some, even their death could be a moment of celebration".

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The group sought legal recognition for the living will, saying the government was opposed to the concept and had not included it in its draft laws on passive euthanasia.

The judgment came on a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause and was argued by noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan. "The living will is just an instrument that gives the patient autonomy over his life or death". "That apart, it will strengthen the mind of the treating doctors as they will be in a position to ensure, after being satisfied, that they are acting in a lawful manner", the CJI said. He further clarified that while active euthanasia is a crime, same is not the case with passive euthanasia as the element of good faith and objective assessment of the caregiver of the patient will protect doctors performing this task. Living wills authorise doctors and relatives to exercise passive euthanasia and withdraw life support in the event of terminal illness or slide into a vegetative state or irreversible coma.

Dr K K Aggarwal, vice -pesident of Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania, and former IMA president, however, said strict guidelines should be put in place to ensure that there is no abuse of the "living will" by relatives of the terminally ill patient. He was seen on the TV lauding the verdict as a "historical ruling" and said, "The whole world takes birth crying, but Mahavira taught us to die laughing". Shanbaug was the face of the debate on euthanasia in India.

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Shanbuag, a nurse, was left in a vegetative state after she was raped and strangled in 1973 at the hospital where she worked. Meantime, a non-government organisation approached the top court with a plea to also legalise the right to a living will. Friday's Supreme Court verdict is a major step in the direction of allowing passive euthanasia in India. However, the court issued a set of broad guidelines for legalising passive euthanasia in India. "With a lot of hue and cry around the Aruna Shanbaug case, the matter was taken up again in July 2014".

The decision, given by the Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, said, "The right to live with dignity (a component of right to life and liberty under Article 21) also includes the smoothening of the process of dying in case of a terminally-ill patient or a person in PVS with no hope of recovery".

A recent study in the "Lancet Commission on Global Access to Palliative Care and Pain Relief" had said that more than 25.5 million people worldwide die every year with serious physical and psychological suffering as a result of disease, injury or illness.

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