The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that life support can be legally removed for some terminally ill patients in a ruling that will allow "passive euthanasia" for the first time in the country.
The judgement came during a hearing into the case of former nurse Aruna Shanbaug, who has been in a vegetative state in KEM Hospital in Mumbai since being raped and strangled with a chain while at work 37 years ago.
A plea by journalist and friend Pinki Virani to stop her being force-fed was rejected by the apex court on the grounds that Virani was unable to make the demand on Shanbaug's behalf.
But doctors and nurses could petition to withdraw life support, provided the request was supervised by the courts, a two-judge bench in the Supreme Court ruled in a highly complex judgement.
"Active euthanasia is illegal. Passive euthanasia is permissible, but it should be done under the supervision of the high court," it said.
Virani filed the case in the Supreme Court in 1999 asking for Shanbaug to be allowed to die with dignity.
"Death in certain conditions can be allowed, only if life support, nutrition or water is removed," Shubhangi Tulli, Virani's lawyer, explained to reporters outside the court after the ruling.
"It is for doctors to decide whether passive euthanasia can be allowed."