Monday, March 7, 2011

In historic verdict, SC okays passive euthanasia ,HC To Give Go-Ahead After Getting Consent & Expert Opinion

New Delhi: Mercy killing now has legal sanction in India. The Supreme Court on Monday broke new ground with a judgment allowing passive euthanasia — involving withdrawal of life-sustaining drugs and/or life-support systems — for patients who are brain dead or in a permanent vegetative state (PVS), and of whom doctors have lost hope of reviving even with the most advanced medical aid.
The court, however, clarified that active euthanasia, involving injecting a potent drug to advance the death of such patients, remained a crime under law.
While laying down guidelines for passive euthanasia, a two-judge SC Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra rejected the euthanasia plea for 63-year-old Aruna Shanbaug who has been lying in PVS in Mumbai’s municipal-run KEM Hospital for the last 37 years after a brutal sexual assault in 1973 when she was 25. The government, represented by Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati, had opposed all forms of euthanasia, saying India was not emotionally ready for it.
The SC specified that only a high court Bench of at least two judges can give the final go-ahead for passive euthanasia after bona fide consent from the patient’s relatives and the opinion of an expert panel of reputed doctors comprising a neurologist, a psychiatrist and a physician. The HC would issue notice to concerned parties and give an expeditious judgment since delay could aggravate the mental agony of the relatives.
The court devised this rather elaborate procedure — while pointing out that it would have to hold good until Parliament enacts a law on this issue — since it was wary of unscrupulous relatives, in collusion with hospital staff, engineering consent to grab the property of a terminally-ill patients, an apprehension expressed by Vahanvati.
Agreeing with the 1993 decision of the UK’s House of Lords (in a case involving a 17-year-old boy, Anthony Bland), Justice Katju, who authored the 110-page judgment for the Bench, said: “While giving great weight to the wishes of the parents, spouses, or other close relatives, or next friend of the patient and also giving due weight to the opinion of the attending doctors, we cannot leave it entirely to their discretion whether to discontinue the life support or not.
We make it clear that it is experts like medical practitioners who can decide whether there is any reasonable possibility of a new medical discovery which would enable such a patient to revive in the near future, the court said. We agree that the approval of the high court should be taken in this connection. This is in the interest of the protection of the patient, protection of the doctors, relatives and next friend, and for reassurance of the patient’s family as well as the public.” Justice Katju, a voracious reader, quoted a famous couplet of 18th-century poet Mirza Ghalib: “Marte hain aarzoo mein marne ki, Maut aati hai par nahin aati (One dies longing for death but death, despite being around, is elusive).”
“Euthanasia is one of the most perplexing issues which the courts and legislatures all over the world are facing today. This court, in this case, is facing the same issue, and we feel like a ship in an uncharted sea, seeking some guidance by the light thrown by the legislations and judicial pronouncements of foreign countries, as well as the submissions of learned counsels before us,” he said.



Aruna Shanbaug, nurse at Mumbai's King Edward Memorial Hospital, was
sexually assaulted and choked with a chain by a ward boy on Nov 27, 1973
The assault left her unable to talk, move or eat on her own In 1999, author Pinki Virani filed case saying Aruna should be allowed to die with dignity. Govt opposed plea


SC Bench rejects appeal for mercy killing of Aruna because of the KEM staff’s “love and affection” for her But it allows passive euthanasia—or withdrawal of life-sustaining drugs and/or life-support systems—in case a person is being kept alive only mechanically, has been in that condition for some years, and there is
no plausible possibility of recovery Active euthanasia—injecting a lethal drug to induce such a patient’s death—remains illegal Bench says only high courts can give nod for passive euthanasia, after consent from patient’s relatives coupled with report of court-appointed expert panel, comprising a neurologist, psychiatrist and physician Procedure laid down by court to hold good till Parliament enacts a law on the issue Court also asks Parliament to delete Section 309 of IPC, which makes attempt to suicide a criminal act. Says, “A person attempts suicide in depression, and hence needs help, rather than punishment”

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