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Supreme Court allows passive euthanasia: Bill protecting patients, doctors in such cases pending in Parliament

The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment on Friday, held that passive euthanasia is legal and observed that the right to die with dignity is a fundamental one. However, the issue has a complex history and has been dealt with by numerous government bodies.

The Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, in response to a question in the Lok Sabha on 15 December 2017, stated that the government is not opposed to letting people make 'living wills' to stop medical treatment in future, if they become terminally ill.

File image of Aruna Shanbaug. IBNLive

File image of Aruna Shanbaug. IBNLive

A legislation permitting passive euthanasia titled "Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients Bill, 2016" is currently pending in Parliament. The Bill allows patients to take a decision to withhold medical treatment for themselves, provided that they have taken an informed decision and are of sound mind. It provides protection to patients and medical practitioners from any liability for withdrawing medical treatment.

The proposed legislation, taking a view similar to that of the Supreme Court, stated that its objective is to assist "for the right of a dignified death".

The Bill was introduced after the judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case, in which the Supreme Court allowed passive euthanasia in her case. The apex court had then said that passive euthanasia should be allowed.

A report by the Law Commission of India in 2012 also dealt with the issue and said, "A competent adult patient has the right to insist that there should be no invasive medical treatment by way of artificial life-sustaining measures/treatment."

The commission recommended that in case of a person in an irreversible coma or persistent vegetative state, relatives, next friend or the doctors should approach the high court to seek permission to withhold life support. This would be if a person has not earlier taken a decision on withdrawing life support.

The high court is expected to arrive at its decision after taking the opinion of a panel of three medical experts.

Updated Date: Mar 09, 2018 16:45 PM

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