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  India   All India  11 Oct 2017  Govt tells Supreme Court it plans law on euthanasia

Govt tells Supreme Court it plans law on euthanasia

Published : Oct 11, 2017, 12:57 am IST
Updated : Oct 11, 2017, 12:57 am IST

Passive euthanasia was legalised by the Supreme Court in 2011 when it laid down guidelines for it.

Supreme Court of India (Photo: PTI)
 Supreme Court of India (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: The Centre on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it will soon come up with legislation allowing passive euthanasia, whereby doctors can, on humanitarian grounds, to withdraw treatment to a terminally-ill patient who is in a vegetative state. The decision to end a life will have to be approved by a medical board.

Passive euthanasia was legalised by the Supreme Court in 2011 when it laid down guidelines for it. The government now intends to enact a law on the issue.

The government told a five-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, that it is opposed to the concept of “living will” requesting euthanasia as it could be misused.

“Living will” refers to a patient’s permission, given in advance, authorising doctors to stop life-support to hasten his/her death if they become terminally ill. It is a written statement detailing a person’s desires regarding medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent.

Additional solicitor general P.S. Narasimha, appearing for the Centre, said that a draft bill, based on the guidelines for “passive euthanasia” made by the court in the Aruna Shanbaug case and the recommendations of the Law Commission are under consideration.

“We have been following the guidelines laid down by this court in and a medical board is the final authority to decide on passive euthanasia, not the ‘living will’ created by a person,” Mr Narasimha said.

Justice D.Y. Chandrac-hud, also a part of the bench, said that the reality today is that middle-class families don’t want an elderly person at home and treat them as burden.

“So a living will can pose problems,” Justice Chandrachud said.

The bench, also comprising Justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar and Ashok Bhushan, asked the government whether a medical board has been permanently constituted to take a call on passive euthanasia. The ASG told the court that the medical board is not permanently constituted and set up on case-to-case basis.

The Chief Justice told the ASG that the Shanbaug judgment contemplated setting up of medical boards and asked him to take instructions whether such boards could be set up in every district so that cases of “passive euthanasia” could be referred to the board for its final opinion.    

The bench was hearing a petition to declare the “right to die with dignity” for persons suffering from chronic terminal diseases and likely to go into a permanent vegetative state as a fundamental right. The hearing will continue on Wednesday.

The PIL filed in 2005 by NGO Common Cause said when a medical expert opines that the person afflicted with a terminal disease has reached a point of no return, he should be given the right to refuse life support. In 2014, the apex court had referred the petition to a five-judge Constitution Bench.

Under the existing guidelines, parents, spouse and close kin,  can decide, in best interests of the patient, to discontinue life support. The decision must be approved by a high court.

On receiving such a plea, the high court’s chief justice must create a bench of at least two judges to take up the matter and, if needed, nominate a panel of three doctors. A copy of the report given by the doctors’ panel has to be given to close kin of the patient and the  state government before arriving at a verdict.

Earlier, Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner, said that when a medical expert opined that the person afflicted with the terminal disease had reached a point of no return, then he/she should be given the right to refuse being put on a life-support to prolong his/her agonies.

The court, however, said such a provision could be misused.

On January 15, 2016, the Centre had told the court about the 241st report of the Law Commission which stated that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards and there was also a proposed law Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006.

The government had said that its stand will also be based on 6.7 regulation of 2002 under Medical Council of India Act which says that practising euthanasia, without consulting doctors, shall constitute unethical conduct.

Tags: supreme court, euthanasia