Euthanasia has always been a topic of ethical debate for health professionals, law makers and families of terminally sick people. As per its definition, Euthanasia means the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma.
The Supreme Court ruling on March 9, 2018 declaring passive euthanasia and living will permissible, is seen as a historic move by the court.
Passive euthanasia essentially involves withdrawal of life support or discontinuation of life-preserving medical treatment so that a person with a terminal illness is allowed to die in the natural course. It is different from active euthanasia wherein death is brought by some deliberate act.
A living will gives right to people (including the terminally ill) to give advance directives to refuse medical treatment.
What is the Judgement?
A Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, in three concurring opinions, upheld that the fundamental right to life and dignity includes right to refuse treatment and die with dignity. The fundamental right to a "meaningful existence" includes a person's choice to die without suffering, it held. The court has laid down a much-needed legal framework for enforcing living wills
The court has invoked its inherent power under Article 142 of the Constitution to grant legal status to advance directives which will hold good until Parliament enacts legislation on the matter.
The history behind it
Passive euthanasia was recognised by a two-judge Bench in Aruna Shanbaug case in 2011. Now the Constitution Bench has expanded the jurisprudence on the subject by adding to it the principle of a ‘living will’. The apex court's judgment came on a plea filed in 2005 by NGO Common Cause.
How the world looks at it
Netherlands was the first country to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in April 2002. The country follows strict guidelines and conditions, including that “the patient must be suffering unbearable pain, their illness must be incurable and the demand must be made in “full consciousness” by the patient.”
Apart from Netherlands, as of March 2018, human euthanasia is legal in Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, Canada and India. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, and in the some US states.
Apart from these countries, in a large part of world it is still prohibited more because of religious and moral dilemmas.
The pros and cons
Burdening a terminally ill and suffering patient with continued and painful medication snatches from them the right of a dignified life. In this context, euthanasia is the hope for the patients to end their sufferings.
However, the decision needs to be taken in expert advice wherein the need of it should emerge only from the medical condition and not from other reasons like depression and financial problems. Improving the health infrastructure of the country, more so of palliative care can go a long way in decreasing the euthanasia pleas in the country.