A family that has a member in a vegetative state since long, with no hope of recovery, got the choice of approaching the state high court with the euthanasia plea after a landmark Supreme Court judgment in 2011.
While rejecting the plea for Aruna Shanbaug's euthanasia, the Mumbai
nurse who has been in a vegetative state for more than three decades after being sexually assaulted, the SC had allowed and laid out guidelines for passive euthanasia.
The SC guidelines involved the withdrawing of treatment or food that would allow the patient to live.
On Wednesday, the apex court issued notice to all states seeking their views on a poser whether a terminally ill person can execute a living will that life support system be withdrawn if he or she reaches a vegetative state with no hope of revival, rekindling the debate around the issue.
According to the doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences' (AIIMS) busy Trauma Centre, at any given time, about six patients occupying beds are in a completely vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
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"These people have nowhere to go. Their families have spent the last penny to keep them alive and are left with no money to move them anywhere else," said a senior doctor at the AIIMS's trauma centre.
The patients are observed in the trauma centre for a maximum of one year before being declared vegetative.
In hospitals like the AIIMS's trauma centre, where shortage of beds is a common problem, these patients keep occupying beds for want of any hospice facility.
"I personally am for euthanasia. It is a huge drain on the country's resources. We should gracefully let these patients go rather than torturing them and their families," said the doctor.
Dr Naresh Trehan, a renowned cardiac surgeon, however, has been concerned about the morality of the action.
"The biggest concern around the world about euthanasia is if we can play god, and also if the law can be abused," he had said when Shanbaug's mercy killing petition was rejected.
"Ordinarily if a life is not functional, it is not worth continuing. How long you can actively keep intervening to prolong a life is the question. There should be a point where we should be able to stop intervening," he added.
Doctors unanimously agree that euthanasia should be made legal in cases where there is no scope of a patient recovering. But many feel that India is not yet ready for a decision like this which requires a mix of sensitivity and maturity.
"We Indians are extremely emotional by nature, and also know how to find loopholes in the law. There are chances of the law getting misused for financial or other gains. It needs a careful thought," said Dr Bipin Walia, a senior consultant neurosurgery and head of neuro-spine surgery at Max Hospital, Saket.
"Though there is no point in prolonging the physical agony of a terminally ill person," he added.
Passive and active euthanasia
Passive: When medical treatment is withdrawn with the intention of causing the patient's death. For instance, if the patient is on life-support system, the deliberate removal of it will be termed as passive euthanasia. In passive euthanasia, the measures to prolong the life of the patient are withdrawn.
Active: Active euthanasia entails deliberately causing the patient's death by injecting with poison or giving an overdose of sleeping pills and other medicines. In active euthanasia, the measures are taken to end the life of the patient.
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