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Supreme Court Legalizes Passive Euthanasia with Guidelines

10 March 2018

The order was passed by a five-judge Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Kumar Misra, Justice AK Sikri, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

India's Supreme Court Friday legalised passive euthanasia in a landmark judgment that places the power of choice to live in the hands of an individual.

Thus the Constitution Bench held that an adult human being having mental capacity to take an informed decision has right to refuse medical treatment including withdrawal from life saving devices.

Feb 15, 2016: Centre says that it is deliberating the issue. India's law commission in its 241st Report titled "Passive Euthanasia- A Relook" had proposed that a legislation be enacted on "Passive Euthanasia".

It includes authorising the kin to switch off life support in case a medical board declares the patient beyond medical help. The court has, however, laid down stringent guidelines for the administration of passive euthanasia and the enforcement of living wills. A "living will" is made by a person, in his normal state of mind, seeking voluntary euthanasia in case of terminal illness, if he or she reaches an irreversible vegetative state.

"To deprive an individual of dignity at the end of life is to deprive him of meaningful existence", the Bench said. This judgment was passed in wake of Pinki Virani's plea to the highest court in December 2009 under the Constitutional provision of "Next Friend". January 16, 2006: SC allowed the Delhi Medical Council (DMC) to intervene and asked it to file documents on passive euthanasia.

Supreme Court Legalizes Passive Euthanasia with Guidelines
Supreme Court Legalizes Passive Euthanasia with Guidelines

A living will sets out a patient's wishes regarding how they want to be treated if they are seriously ill.

Before proceeding with the decision, the medical practitioner will be required to inform persons including the spouse, or parent, etc of the need (or otherwise) for withdrawing treatment.

In India, the debate over euthanasia began years ago after the case of Aruna Shanbaug captured national attention.

In active euthanasia, a person or medical professionals directly and deliberately do something for the death of the suffering patient.

The 2011 judgement had put the onus on doctors to petition to withdraw life support, under the supervision of the courts.

While legalising passive euthanasia on Friday, the chief bench defined Active euthanasia as "a positive act or affirmative action or act of commission entailing the use of lethal substances or forces to cause the intentional death of a person by direct intervention, e.g., a lethal injection given to a person with terminal cancer who is in bad agony".

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Supreme Court Legalizes Passive Euthanasia with Guidelines