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What is passive euthanasia

The term "passive euthanasia" used by the Supreme Court in its verdict rejecting a plea for mercy killing of a 60-year-old comatosed rape victim Aruna Shanbaug is defined as withdrawal of medical treatment with deliberate intention to hasten a terminally ill-patient's death.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2011 13:51 IST

The term "passive euthanasia" used by the Supreme Court in its verdict rejecting a plea for mercy killing of a 60-year-old comatosed rape victim Aruna Shanbaug is defined as withdrawal of medical treatment with deliberate intention to hasten a terminally ill-patient's death.

Various medical and legal dictionaries say passive euthanasia is the act of hastening the death of a terminally-ill patient by altering some form of support and letting nature take its course.

The steps that are generally taken to cause passive euthanasia include turning off respirators, halting medications, discontinuing food and water so as to allowing a person to dehydrate or starve to death, or failure to resuscitate, they say.

Passive euthanasia also includes giving a patient large doses of morphine to control pain, in spite of the likelihood that the painkiller will suppress respiration and cause death earlier than it otherwise would have happened.

Such doses of painkillers have a dual effect of relieving pain and hastening death, they say.

These procedures are performed on terminally ill, suffering persons so that natural death will occur sooner. They are also commonly performed on persons in a persistent vegetative state; for example, individuals with massive brain damage or in a coma from which they are unlikely to regain consciousness.

Opposed to the concept of passive euthanasia is active one, which is considered far more controversial and involves causing the death of a person through a direct action, in response to a request from the person himself or those close to him.

A well-known example of active euthanasia is the death of a terminally ill Michigan patient on September 17, 1998. On that date, Dr. Jack Kevorkian videotaped himself administering a lethal medication to Thomas Youk, 52, who suffered with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

CBS broadcast the videotape on 60 Minutes less than a week later. Authorities subsequently charged Kevorkian with first-degree premeditated murder, criminal assistance of a suicide, and delivery of a controlled substance for administering lethal medication to a terminally ill man.

There was no dispute that the dose was administered at the request of Youk, nor any dispute that Youk was terminally ill. A jury found Kevorkian guilty of second-degree murder in 1999. He was sent to prison.