The government told the Supreme Court on Friday that it was contemplating a law on passive euthanasia in the country.
Additional solicitor general PS Patwalia told a five-judge constitution bench headed by justice Anil R Dave hearing petitions seeking the legalisation of passive euthanasia that the government was studying the apex court’s verdict on Aruna Shanbaug’s case and the law commission’s 241st report that favoured allowing passive euthanasia with certain safeguards.
“It is in the process. The Medical Treatment to Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill is pending. The proposed regulation deals with it but the ‘living will’ is not envisaged here,” Patwalia told the bench, also comprised of justices Kurian Joseph, Shiva Kirti Singh, Adarsh Kumar Goel and Rohinton Fali Nariman.
NGO Common Cause, one of the petitioners, demanded that a person suffering from terminal illness be allowed to make a ‘living will’ indicating that he or she not be kept on life support in case there is no hope of a cure.
A living will is a legal document signed by a person in advance stating his wishes on the kind of decisions to be made in case he’s not in a position to decide due to adverse health.
The judges sought to know specifically who would decide whether a patient cannot be cured.
Euthanasia has been a controversial issue across the world. Most countries do not allow active euthanasia which involves administering a substance to end the life of a terminally ill patient. Active euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.
The term passive euthanasia used by the Supreme Court in its verdict on Aruna Shanbaug’s case is defined as the withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten a terminally ill-patient’s death.
Passive euthanasia has got wider acceptance worldwide and is allowed in most states in the US, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Albania.
In India, the law doesn’t permit either active or passive euthanasia. But the Supreme Court had in 2011 ruled in favour of passive euthanasia with certain strict safeguards. The top court had said life support can be withdrawn only on recommendation of a panel of doctors after permission by the high court concerned on an application by the patient’s family or next friend.
Patwalia said at Friday’s hearing that the controversy revolved around a provision in the Medical Council of India Act that declares practising euthanasia an unethical act. He said the question of withdrawing life support even after a patient is brain dead should be decided by a team of doctors and not the treating physician alone.
“Shouldn’t we wait for it (outcome of the report under the Centre’s consideration)? How much time the government will take… it’s a legislative function,” the bench said and gave time till February 1 to the government to clarify its stand.
The bench appointed senior advocate TR Andhyarujina as amicus curiae to assist it.
On behalf of Common Cause, advocate Prashant Bhushan said as a patient under coma cannot express his wish, law should allow him to put it down in writing in advance that he should not “be tortured”. In the absence of any law authorising doctors to do so they keep incurable patients on life support, he said.