Indian Supreme Court: Active euthanasia is illegal but supervised passive euthanasia can be allowed

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In a keenly-awaited verdict, the Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a plea for mercy killing on behalf of a 60-year-old nurse, living in a vegetative state for the last 37 years in a Mumbai hospital after a brutal sexual assault.

A bench of justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra dismissed the plea filed on behalf of KEM hospital nurse Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug, saying that while active euthanasia (mercy killing) was illegal, yet “passive euthanasia” can be permissible in exceptional circumstances.

The apex court said that as per the facts and circumstances of Ms. Aruna’s case, medical evidence and other material suggest that the victim need not be subjected to euthanasia.

The bench, however, said since there is no law presently in the country on euthanasia, mercy killing of terminally ill patient “under passive euthanasia doctrine can be resorted to in exceptional cases.”

The bench clarified that until Parliament enacts a law, its judgement on active and passive euthanasia will be in force. Ms. Aruna, who is now nearly 60-years-old, slipped into coma after a brutal attack on her at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital by a staffer on November 27, 1973…..

During the arguments, the government had taken the stand that there is no provision either under the statute or the Constitution to permit euthanasia.

Her attacker was found guilty and served out his 7 year sentence and was freed.

“Passive euthanasia”is usually defined as withdrawing medical treatment with the deliberate intention of causing the patient’s death. For example, if a patient requires kidney dialysis to survive, the doctors disconnect the dialysis machine, allowing the patient to die soon.

This form of euthanasia is different from “active” euthanasia, or simply euthanasia, where the death is caused by the use of lethal substances. It is widely considered to be criminal homicide, but voluntary passive euthanasia is considered non-criminal in several countries.

Euthanasia conducted with the consent of the patient is termed “voluntary euthanasia”, which is legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington.

When the patient brings about his or her own death with the assistance of a physician, the term “assisted suicide” is often used. If euthanasia is carried out on a patient, who is not in a condition to express his or her desire to die, it is called non-voluntary euthanasia. Examples include child euthanasia, which is illegal worldwide but decriminalised under certain specific circumstances in the Netherlands under the Groningen Protocol.

It’s also legal in Albania if three or more family members consent to the decision.

Although both forms of euthanasia are illegal in Switzerland, assisted suicide is penalised only if it is carried out “from selfish motives”.

In 1995, Australia’s Northern Territory had approved a euthanasia bill. It went into effect in 1996, but the Australian Parliament overturned the bill the next year.

In Colombia, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of mercy killing in 1997 and recommended removing penalties over it. But, the ruling has not gone into effect as the Colombian Congress is yet to approve guidelines for it.

It is illegal for anyone to actively contribute to someone’s death in Ireland. However, it is not illegal to remove life support and other treatment if a person requests for it — in other words, passive euthanasia is legal.

In Mexico, active euthanasia is illegal but since 2008 the law allows the terminally ill to refuse medication or further medical treatment to extend life.

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2 Responses to “Indian Supreme Court: Active euthanasia is illegal but supervised passive euthanasia can be allowed”

  1. Right to Die! « Palak Mathur Says:

    […] Indian Supreme Court: Active euthanasia is illegal but supervised passive euthanasia can be allowed ( […]

  2. David Collihns Says:

    Voluntary Active Euthanasia or Physician Assisted Suicide should be legal, if a patient is terminally ill and is fully competent in making decisions.

    Scenario: Pain of a terminally ill patient cannot be measured by a doctor.

    When a fully competent person is near death from a fatal disease and request to alleviate their suffering, I strongly agree with the rights approach and the necessary actions to carry out the process for voluntary active euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. Nobody who is fully competent of making rational decisions should have to suffer, especially at the last stages of their life. There is no way to determine how much pain a patient is experiencing, a person’s terminal illness should be as unique as the next. What also should be taken into account regarding the patient’s life are 1) their personal wishes, 2) how long they’ve been battling their terminal illness, and 3) the severity of their physical condition. For example, if a patient has terminal cancer that has spread throughout most of their body, there shouldn’t be any questioning his/her decision to end their life, if that is what he/she chooses to do because nobody who hasn’t experienced the same cancer as that patient can possibly measure how much pain he/she is experiencing. The rights approach is not the only perspective that believes suffering is immoral, so in terms of morality, deep consideration should be given on the behalf of each individual patient to determine the best decision.

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