The Supreme Court is likely to take up on Monday a clutch of petitions seeking a direction to the government to legalise passive euthanasia in India.
One of the petitioners, Common Cause -- an NGO -- has demanded that a person suffering from terminal illness should be allowed to make a “living will” indicating that he/she should not be kept on life support system in case there is no hope for cure.
A five-judge constitutional bench headed by justice Anil R Dave had on January 15 sought to know “who will decide whether (a) patient can’t be cured?”
The government has shied away from taking a definite stand at this stage, saying the issue was still under consideration.
In an affidavit filed before the top court, the ministry of health and family affairs, said last week that it had initiated an exercise in 2014 to get public feedback on the Law Commission of India’s recommendation favouring passive euthanasia but did not proceed after a public interest litigation (PIL) on the contentious issue was referred to a Constitution bench.
The affidavit, however, said two government-constituted expert committees had advised to let a terminally ill patient make a living will, indicating he or she should not be kept on life support in case there is no hope for a cure.
In 2006, the government had declined to introduce a bill on passive euthanasia for various reasons.
Euthanasia has been a controversial issue across the globe and most countries don’t allow active euthanasia which involves administering medicine or poison to end the life of a terminally ill patient. In passive euthanasia, a terminally ill patient is allowed to die by stopping life support or medicines.
Active euthanasia is legal in Netheralands, Luxembourg and Belgium while passive euthanasia has got wider acceptance and is allowed in most states in the United States, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Albania.
In India, the law doesn’t permit either active or passive euthanasia but in 2011 the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of passive euthanasia with certain strict safeguards. The SC had said life support system can be withdrawn only on the recommendation of a panel of doctors after permission of the high court concerned on an application by family members or next friend.
These guidelines, the Centre said, shall remain in force until a law is framed.
The controversy revolves around a provision in the Medical Council of India Act that declares practicing euthanasia an unethical act.
After a patient is brain dead, should the question of withdrawing life support be decided by team of doctors or just by the treating physician alone? These are some of the questions the court is likely to consider.
Additional Solicitor General PS Patwalia on January 15 told the court that the government was studying the SC’s verdict in 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,” the ASG had told the bench also comprising of justices Kurian Joseph, Shiva Kirti Singh, Adarsh Kumar Goel and Rohinton Fali Nariman.