Passive Euthanasia in India

What is Passive euthanasia?
Passive euthanasia is a condition where there is withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.Euthanasia  is the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering.

The word “euthanasia” was first used in a medical context by Francis Bacon in the 17th century, to refer to an easy, painless, happy death, during which it was a “physician’s responsibility to alleviate the ‘physical sufferings’ of the body.” Bacon referred to an “outward euthanasia”—the term “outward” he used to distinguish from a spiritual concept—the euthanasia “which regards the preparation of the soul.”

In current usage, euthanasia has been defined as the “painless inducement of a quick death”

On 9 March 2018 the Supreme Court of India legalised passive euthanasia by means of the withdrawal of life support to patients in a permanent vegetative state. The decision was made as part of the verdict in a case involving Aruna Shanbaug, who had been in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) until her death in 2015.

On 9 March 2018, the Supreme Court of India, passed a historic judgement-law permitting Passive Euthanasia in the country. This judgment was passed in wake of Pinki Virani’s plea to lust highest court in December 2009 under the Constitutional provision of “Next Friend”. It is a landmark law which places the power of choice in the hands of the individual, over government, medical or religious control which sees all suffering as “destiny”.

Active euthanasia, including the administration of lethal compounds for the purpose of ending life, is still illegal in India.

In 2018 the Supreme Court of India declared through a five-judge Constitution bench that, if strict guidelines are followed, the government would honor “living wills” allowing consenting patients to be passively euthanized if the patient suffers from a terminal illness or is in a vegetative state.

The Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment allowing “living will” where, an adult in his conscious mind, is permitted to refuse medical treatment or voluntarily decide not to take medical treatment to embrace death in a natural way. In the judgment, the court laid down a set of guidelines for “living will” and defined passive euthanasia and euthanasia as well.

The court stated the rights of a patient would not fall out of the purview of Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Indian Constitution.

NEW DIMENSION IN INDIAN HISTORY- ARUNA’s CASE


Aruna Shanbaug, who was working as a nurse at KEM Hospital, was assaulted on the night of November 27, 1973 by a ward boy. He sodomised Aruna after strangling her with a dog chain. The attack left Aruna blind, paralysed and speechless and she went into a coma from which she has never come out. She is cared for by KEM hospital nurses and doctors. The woman does not want to live any more. The doctors have told her that there is no chance of any improvement in her state. Her next friend (a legal term used for a person speaking on behalf of someone who is incapacitated) describes Shanbaug: “her bones are brittle. Her skin is like ‘Paper Mache’ stretched over a skeleton. Her wrists are twisted inwards; her fingers are bent and fisted towards her palms, resulting in growing nails tearing into the flesh very often. Her teeth are decayed and giving her immense pain. Food is completely mashed and given to her in semisolid form. She chokes on liquids and is in a persistent vegetative state.” So, she, through her ‘next friend’ Pinki Virani, decided to move the SC with a plea to direct the KEM Hospital not to force feed her. And on 16th December 2009, the Supreme Court of India admitted the woman’s plea to end her life. The Supreme Court bench compromising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices A K Ganguly and B S Chauhan agreed to examine the merits of the petition and sought responses from the Union Government, Commissioner of Mumbai Police and Dean of KEM Hospital.

On 24th January 2011, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea for euthanasia filed by Aruna’s friend journalist Pinki Virani, by setting up a medical panel to examine her. The three-member medical committee subsequently set up under the Supreme Court’s directive, checked upon Aruna and concluded that she met “most of the criteria of being in a permanent vegetative state”. However, it turned down the mercy killing petition on 7th March, 2011. The court, in its landmark judgement, however allowed passive euthanasia in India. While rejecting Pinki Virani’s plea for Aruna Shanbaug’s euthanasia, the court laid out guidelines for passive euthanasia. According to these guidelines, passive euthanasia involves the withdrawing of treatment or food that would allow the patient to live.

Conclusion

Ms Shanbaug has, however, changed forever India’s approach to the contentious issue of euthanasia. The verdict on her case allows passive euthanasia contingent upon circumstances. So other Indians can now argue in court for the right to withhold medical treatment – take a patient off a ventilator, for example, in the case of an irreversible coma. This judgement makes it clear that passive euthanasia will “only be allowed in cases where the person is in persistent vegetative state or terminally ill.”

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