Passive Euthanasia

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    • Recently, Honourable Supreme Court agreed to ease the procedure for passive euthanasia in the country

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    • A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph agrees to significantly ease the procedure for passive euthanasia in the country.
    • As per new guidelines, the document will now be signed by the executor of the “living will” in the presence of two attesting witnesses, preferably independent, and attested before a notary or Gazetted Officer.
    • The bench said the witnesses and the notary shall record their satisfaction that the document has been executed voluntarily and without any coercion or inducement or compulsion and with a full understanding of all the relevant information and consequences.
    • Previously in 2018, the SC had in its judgment recognized that a terminally ill patient or a person in a persistent vegetative state may execute an advance medical directive or a “living will” to refuse medical treatment, holding the right to live with dignity also included “smoothening” the process of dying.
    • The Supreme Court has simplified this process for passive euthanasia by modifying its earlier order and removing the condition that mandated a magistrate’s approval for the withdrawal or withholding of life support to a terminally ill.
    • The judgment of the top court had come on a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause seeking recognition of the “living will” made by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia.
    • The SC has also affirmed that the directives and guidelines shall remain in force till Parliament brings legislation in the field.
    • Previously, the Law Commission of India in its 196th Report in 2006 had said that active  euthanasia should be decriminalized, but not legalized.

    What is Euthanasia?

    • Euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending a person’s life to eliminate pain or suffering
    • Ethicists differentiate between active and passive euthanasia.

    Active euthanasia

    Passive euthanasia

    • Also known as assisted suicide,It is the act of deliberately and actively doing something to end a person’s life.
    • It is done through steps such as administering a lethal injection or overdose of medication.
    • Active euthanasia involves directly causing the patient’s death,
    • This type of euthanasia is illegal in most countries, including India.
    • It is defined as intentionally letting a patient die by withholding artificial life support such as a ventilator or a feeding tube
    • This can include removing a patient from life support or not providing treatment for a terminal illness.
    • Passive euthanasia is legal in some countries, including India, under certain circumstances and with proper consent.

    Other types:

    • Voluntary Euthanasia: It is done when the patient themselves requests to end their life, while non-voluntary euthanasia is when the decision to end the patient’s life is made by someone else, such as a family member or legal guardian. This type of euthanasia is illegal in most countries, including India.
    • Involuntary euthanasia: It is when the patient is killed against their will, and is illegal in all countries.

    Significance

    • End of Pain: Euthanasia provides a way to relieve the intolerably extreme pain and suffering of an individual. It relieves the terminally ill people from a lingering death.
    • Respecting Person’s Choice: The essence of human life is to live a dignified life and to force the person to live in an undignified way is against the person’s choice. Thus, it expresses the choice of a person which is a fundamental principle.
    • Treatment for others: In many developing and underdeveloped countries like India, there is a lack of funds. There is a shortage of hospital space. So, the energy of doctors and hospital beds can be used for those people whose life can be saved instead of continuing the life of those who want to die. 
    • Dignified Death: Article 21 of the Indian Constitution clearly provides for living with dignity. A person has a right to live a life with at least minimum dignity and if that standard is falling below that minimum level then a person should be given a right to end his life. 
    • Addressing Mental Agony: The motive behind this is to help rather than harm. It not only relieves the unbearable pain of a patient but also relieves the relatives of a patient from the mental agony.

    Issues

    • Medical Ethics: Medical ethics call for nursing, caregiving and healing and not ending the life of the patient. In the present time, medical science is advancing at a great pace making even the most incurable diseases curable today. Thus, instead of encouraging a patient to end his life, the medical practitioners have to encourage the patients to lead their painful life with strength. 
    • Moral Wrong: Taking a life is morally and ethically wrong. The value of life can never be undermined.
    • Vulnerable people will become more prone to it: Groups that represent disabled people are against the legalisation of euthanasia on the ground that such groups of vulnerable people would feel obliged to opt for euthanasia as they may see themselves as a burden to society.
    • Suicide v/s Euthanasia:  When suicide is not allowed then euthanasia should also not be allowed. A person commits suicide when he goes into a state of depression and has no hope from the life. Similar is the situation when a person asks for euthanasia. But such a tendency can be lessened by proper care of such patients and showing hope in them. 

    Right to Die

    • Supreme Court first tackled the question of whether the “Right to Life” includes the “right to die” in P Rathinam vs Union of India (1994) and Gian Kaur V State of Punjab (1996)

    Aruna Shanbaug versus Union of India

    • Debate around euthanasia gathered steam in its present form in 2011, whether a person who’s in a vegetative state could be euthanized.
    • Activist and author Pinki Virani petitioned the Supreme Court for permission to pull out the life support of Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who had spent nearly 40 years in a vegetative state after being raped in 1973.
    • In the landmark case of “Aruna Shanbaug v. Union of India” in 2011, the Supreme Court of India recognized the concept of “passive euthanasia” in India and laid down guidelines for its implementation.
    • The court held that in cases where a person is in a permanent vegetative state and there is no hope of recovery, the withdrawal of life support systems would not amount to murder.
    • The court also laid down a procedure for obtaining permission from the high court for such withdrawal of life support systems.
    •  Additionally, the court also emphasized the need for a living will in such cases.

    Source: TH