Euthanasia and all that we should know.

Purbasha Roy
EUTHANASIA and all that we should know. The meaning of euthanasia is the painless killing of a patient who is suffering from an incurable and afflictive disease or is in an irreversible coma. In one word the meaning of this word is ‘mercy killing’ or ‘assisted suicide’.   SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENTS The Apex Court in 2011 had recognised passive euthanasia in the Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug Vs Union of India & Ors (on 7march, 2011) case by which it had permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision. The bench was hearing a PIL filed by NGO COMMON CAUSE, saying safeguards were needed while taking a decision by medical boards to withdraw life support of a terminally-ill patient. The Supreme Court of India recognised a “living will” (meaning, a written statement detailing a person's desires regarding future medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent, especially an advance directive.) made by terminally-ill patients (meaning, persons who are suffering from an incurable disease that cannot be adequately treated and is reasonably expected to result in the death of the patient eventually.) for Passive Euthanasia. A five-judge Constitution bench headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Mishra stated that passive euthanasia and advance living will are “permissible”. The bench, also comprising justices A. K. Sikri, A. M. Khanwilkar, D. Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, also laid down guidelines as to who would execute the will and how the nod for passive euthanasia would be granted by the Medical Board. The Apex Court said advance directives for terminally-ill patients could be issued and executed by the next friend and relatives of such person after which a medical board would consider it. The Apex Court stated that the directions and guidelines laid down by it and its directive shall remain in force till a legislation is brought on the issue. The CJI, while reading out the judgement, said though there were four separate opinions of the bench, all the judges were unanimous that the “living will” should be permitted since a person cannot be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she doesn’t wish to live. On January 15, 2016, the Centre had said that the 241st report of the Law Commission stated that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards and there was also a proposed Law-Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill 2006. On March 9, 2018, Friday, in the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug Vs Union of India & Ors (on 7march, 2011), the Apex Court has allowed a living will and passive euthanasia. It has held the right to die with dignity is an inextricable facet of Article 21 of the Constitution. It further said that an adult human having mental capacity to take an informed decision has the right to refuse medical treatment including withdrawal from life-saving therapy.   The latest developments on the issue of Euthanasia:
  • Passive euthanasia is when medical treatment is withdrawn with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally ill patient.
  • The “living will” authorises patients to give explicit instructions in advance about the medical treatment to be administered when they are terminally ill or no longer able to express informed consent.
  • A person suffering from terminal illness has the right to refuse medical treatment to avoid “protracted physical suffering”, said the judgement peppered with quotes of writers and philosophers.
  • Passive euthanasia will apply only to a terminally ill person with no hope of recovery, the judges said that the issued guidelines would be in place until a law is enacted.
  • To consent a living will, a family member or a friend can go to the High Court, which will ask a Medical Board to decide if Passive euthanasia is needed.
  • The Chief Justice of India, while reading out the judgement, said that though there were four separate opinions of the bench, all the judges were unanimous that the “living will” should be permitted since a person cannot be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she does not wish to live.
  • A national debate over the legalisation of euthanasia revolved around Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who spent 42 years in vegetative state after a brutal rape in 1973 and died in 2015.
  • Though the Supreme Court in 2011 rejected a petition to stop the force-feeding of Aruna Shanbaug, it allowed “passive euthanasia” for the first time and said that life support could be legally removed for some terminally ill patients.
  • “This is an historic decision which clears the air,” said by Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan. “Everybody will breathe a sigh of relief, because people were earlier apprehensive that if they withdrew life support, they could be prosecuted for culpable homicide,” he added.
  • Active Euthanasia, by administering a lethal injection, remains illegal in India.
  A critique of this change regarding Euthanasia The recent legalisation of Passive Euthanasia has become the most discussed topic in the country. From a critique’s view I can find some Pros and Cons about Passive Euthanasia. They are stated below: PROs
  • Passive Euthanasia gives the right to a terminally-ill adult to make an informed decision whether that person wants to be diagnosed or terminate the treatment and die without any more suffering.
  • It provides a way to relieve extreme pain and also it is a way of relieve for a person whose quality of life is low.
  • It is another case of freedom of choice and also it frees up medical funds to help other people.
  • The history of the law’s treatment of assisted suicide in this country has been and continues to be one of the rejection of nearly all efforts to permit it. That being the case, our decisions lead us to conclude that the asserted ‘right’ to assistance in committing suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by Due Process Clause.
  • Doctors must not engage in assisting suicide. They are inheritors of valuable tradition that inspires public trust. Nothing that is remotely beneficial to some particular patient in extremist is worth that damage that will be created by the perception that physicians sometimes aid and even abet people in taking their own lives. The greatest harm that a doctor can do is to consign a desperate patient to unbearable suffering or force the patient to seek out of such suffering permitting a physician assisted suicide would lead patients to distrust their doctors.
  • If we are to remain consistence and we believe that individual has the right to dispose of their life, we should not erect artificial barriers. This would mean so called “Peaceful Pill” should be available in the supermarket so that those old enough to understand death could obtain death peacefully at the time of their choosing.


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