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SC seeks reply from states on passive euthanasia

india Updated: Jul 16, 2014 15:26 IST

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a notice to all states seeking their views on a petition on legalising passive euthanasia or withdrawal of medical treatment with the intention of causing a patient's death.

It can be voluntary or non-voluntary.

The apex court was hearing a petition filed by NGO Common Cause seeking voluntary passive euthanasia, including withdrawal of life support system, to a terminally ill person and stopping medication.

Read: Cases and characters in the euthanasia debate

An apex court constitution bench headed by Chief Justice RM Lodha, justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, justice J Chelameswar, justice AK Sikri and justice Rohinton Fali Nariman issued the notice on a plea filed with it, saying the question of passive euthanasia or mercy killing needs a comprehensive examination as there was no authoritative judicial pronouncement on the issue.

The notice is returnable in eight weeks. Centre argued in the SC that passive euthanasia is a form of suicide which cannot be allowed.

The court issued notice as attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said that the issue entirely concerns the legislature and the judiciary should not take it up.

It appointed former solicitor general TR Andhyarujina as amicus curiae to assist it in the case.

The Supreme Court had in March 2011 legalised passive euthanasia.

The court delivered its judgement while disposing of a petition by social activist Pinki Virani who sought euthanasia for former Mumbai hospital nurse Aruna Shanbaug, 60, who has been living in a vegetative state for 37 years after being raped and strangled by a sweeper in the hospital premises.

The SC, however, had said the right to permit a terminally ill patient to refuse medical treatment would be given under ‘guarded conditions” to prevent its misuse.

It had ruled that active euthanasia, which involves giving terminally ill patients lethal drugs to end their lives, could not be allowed as it is unconstitutional.

The SC had laid down a procedure to be followed in case a patient or his or her family opt for passive euthanasia.

The guidelines include seeking a declaration from the high court after getting clearance from a medical board and state government.

In the absence of any legislation on passive euthanasia, the SC had then said its ruling would be the law until Parliament legislates on the matter.

The court had, however, dismissed Virani's petition saying she has no locus standi in the case. It said she could not be considered Shanbaug's friend and did not have the right to move such a petition.

Read: Aruna to live, but SC says ‘passive euthanasia’ legal

It said that in the absence of a family, the petition could be filed by the KEM Hospital's nursing staff that has been looking after her for 37 years and ensured that not even a single bedsore was reported.

The court had constituted a medical board of three doctors from Mumbai to examine Shanbaug and submit a report on her physical condition.