India’s Supreme Court has legalised passive euthanasia in a landmark judgment that places the power of choice to live in the hands of an individual.
Passive euthanasia is stopping all kinds of medical treatment to hasten the death of a terminally ill person in order to relieve them of their suffering. Previously all forms of euthanasia were illegal in India.
But a five-judge Constitution bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, has now given its nod to passive euthanasia legal by recognising the “living will”, but with some riders.
“Human beings have the right to die with dignity,” the court said, while hearing a plea on the issue by a non-government organisation.
However, the top court made it clear that the “living will” would be permitted only after due permission from family members or a very close friend of a terminally ill person who sought passive euthanasia in his normal state of mind.
In fact, the family members will have to first approach a High Court which will constitute a medical board to take a call on passive euthanasia, according to the apex court guidelines.
The expert doctors have to clearly certify that there is no chance of any revival, only then can passive mercy killing of a terminally ill person be allowed by a High Court, the top court made it clear.
A “living will” is made by a person in his normal state of mind, seeking voluntary mercy killing in case of terminal illness, if he or she reaches an irreversible vegetative state.
The court had in last October taken up the plea, but then chosen to reserve its order. However, the bench had then hinted that it could allow the execution of “living will” in cases of passive euthanasia under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Article 21 says that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
The euthanasia fire has been raging in India since 2014 when then Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who is also a medical doctor, called for a debate on the issue.
“A consensus should be developed on whether to allow the killing of terminally ill people with no chances of revival,” he then said, sparking the debate across the country, with many favoring the move to relieve people of their sufferings.
The debate grew in 2015 following the death of a 66-year-old nurse, Aruna Shanbaug, who was sexually assaulted and left in a vegetative state for over 40 years. Even earlier this year, an elderly couple from Mumbai sought President Ram Nath Kovind’s nod for “active euthanasia.”