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India Readies Law for Passive Euthanasia

India Readies Law for Passive Euthanasia



Asia & Pacific

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Passive euthanasia – the withdrawal of life support to patients in a permanently vegetative state – was allowed in India by its highest court in 2009 after it turned down a mercy killing plea on behalf of a terminally ill rape victim who had been kept alive artificially while in a coma since 1973.

New Delhi (Sputnik)  India’s highest court was informed by the government on Tuesday that the legislature was considering the introduction of a law to permit passive euthanasia throughout the country.

The five judges maintained the court’s earlier stance that active euthanasia was just like suicide and couldn’t be condoned, and the representative of the government in the court informed that the government concurred with the court’s view. However, the government added that it would introduce a law to permit passive euthanasia under strict regulation and guidelines soon.

Active euthanasia or assisted suicide is not allowed in India. The Supreme Court was considering a case regarding the concept of a ‘living will’ which means terminally ill, unresponsive patients would have the right to refuse treatment beforehand, and with their permission (in advance), doctors would stop the life-support system and allow death.

The government, through its law officer P S Narasimha, informed the court that it was considering a law to allow passive euthanasia for patients who are terminally ill with no chance of survival. The center also added in its submission that it was opposed to allowing people to make a ‘living will’ that they should not be put on life support in the case of a terminal illness as it feels that such a provision could be misused.

The bill, Management of Patients with Terminal Illness and Withdrawal of Medical Life Support, had been drafted with recommendations from the Law Commission.

The case in the top court was brought by eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan, known for his activism initiatives. He was representing an NGO, Common Cause, in petitioning the matter.

The petition had recently revived the debate around euthanasia in India, as the petition sought to ask the highest court of the country to declare that people should have the right to die with dignity.

The court during the hearing on Tuesday sought to clearly differentiate between the right to die and the right to a dignified death.

India was in the midst of a heated debate on euthanasia when in 2009, a petition was filed on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse, who was left in a vegetative state after being raped  in 1973. The top court declined Shanbaug’s plea for mercy killing but it allowed passive euthanasia, calling it an exceptional circumstance. She died in 2013.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are acceptable in a few countries, including the US, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium.


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