Murder or Mercy: Passive Euthanasia in India

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The debate for allowing Euthanasia in India started when a friend of Ms Aruna Ramchandran Shanbaug filed a petition before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India for giving her the permission to die a natural death. The victim was brutally raped by a co-worker in the hospital in 1973, and since then she had been living in a vegetative state in the KEM Hospital, Mumbai.

The lad had no next of kin to take care of her, thus the hospital staff took care of her on a routine basis just like family. She was fed with liquid food which was ingested in her body, while the rest was also taken care of.

The case was brought before the Court to allow the hospital authorities to sop giving her the food and the support that kept her alive so that she may have a dignified death.

The Court did not allow the process to be administered, eventually when the lady died naturally after 4 years of the judgement.

Euthanasia, has been a hotly debated topic worldwide where certain countries hold inhibitions against a complete implementation of the same due to mistrust in the human nature.

Euthanasia is of two kinds active where a substance that terminates the life of the subject is administered while passive is when the life support system is withdrawn so which leads to natural death of the victim.

The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday, allowed passive euthanasia in India while exploring the ways of implementing it. The reasons for implementing the same is very obvious. In a country like India where quality healthcare is beyond the reach of ordinary citizens, and the middle class finds it tough to keep their disease stricken kin alive due to surmounting pressures of day-to-day lives, chronic illnesses take away their kin after biting their pockets deeply.

The chronic ailments that may affect people include a wide range of diseases and there is only one parameter for judging whether the patient is a fit case for withdrawing the treatment when there is going to be no outcomes.

The Supreme Court has formulated a process whereby it seeks to establish a Medical Board that would examine the subjects condition and give an approval to the doctors to go ahead with the withdrawal of life support system. This principle embarks on the victims right to die with dignity guaranteed under Article 21.

Passive euthanasia as envisaged by the Parliament under its Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill-2016 is a step towards creating a workable system for the administration of the humanist step.

The bone of contention remains the ‘living will’ or the advance directive, which aims at giving the authority to the next of kin to consent on behalf of the patient who might not be in the position to give a valid consent. Yet, a discrepancy that remains is the kin might be motivated by factors  indifference of the kin to patient, their lust for material gains after their death, lack of patience and an ignorant attitude towards the treatment.

These factors combined with the will of the patient himself, wherein the patient may not have a stable set of thoughts, might also result in suicide. These fears have led the Supreme Court to reserve the judgement as to the applicability of the living will.

The Supreme Court has also declared that it will provide a rough framework for the formulation of living wills.

The step taken by the SC is a remarkable move towards the recognition of right to die with dignity, but a consideration of physician assisted suicide would have also done a great deal of difference in case where plight of the patient is beyond explanation; a mere withdrawal of life support system will not yield in relieving the patient from the rigours of the pain and discomfort that they face.

Let us hope for the best, the direction is a well mapped road ahead for recognition of more humane deaths to be given to persons beyond the cure of medical sciences.

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