The Supreme Court on Tuesday referred the issue of passive euthanasia in the case of a person who is terminally ill and in medical opinion there is little hope of revival and recovery to a 5-judge constitution bench.The apex court bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said it is time to lay down comprehensive guidelines on the issue.The SC said its judgment refusing Aruna Shanbaug the right to die with dignity is in conflict with an earlier constitution bench judgment.

Chief Justice Sathasivam pronouncing the judgement said that they are not making any references and leaving it for the constitution bench to examine the whole issue exhaustively in all its dimensions.

Earlier, a constitution bench judgment had ruled that the right to live with dignity included the right to die with dignity, but had not touched upon the issue of passive euthansia.

SC said it is time for a constitution bench to lay down guidelines on passive euthanasia on its legality as well as its constitutional validity.

The Passive Euthanasia Law, granted by India‘s Supreme Court in March 2011, for all Indians through their “next friend” Pinki Virani, continues to stand as Law until:
(a) overturned by the Supreme Court bench to which this morning (Feb 25, 2014) has been referred the right to a Living Will
(b) revoked by Parliament
*”Next Friend“. Consitutional provision. In the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs UoI — which brought the Passive Euthanasia Law — Aruna’s next friends were judged as those who knew her from the time she became a patient. They have been given the right to approach the Bombay High Court “should they change their mind”.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court of India, passed a historic judgement permitting Passive Euthanasia in the country. It’s a landmark law which places the power of choice in the hands of the individual, over government, medical or religious control which sees all suffering as “destiny”.

Since the judgement provides medico-legal clarity on brain-death, the Passive Euthanasia Law has also been instrumental in heightening acuity on organ donations. [Healthy vital organs would get wasted while arguments rage over brain-steam death.] An amendment proposed in Parliament, a few months after the judgement, allows the Dr of the brain-dead patient to inform the relatives about the option of organ donation. The Dr can also talk to an irreversibly ill patient about consenting to organ donation as a cadaver through authorised committees.


Post-judgement there was also impetus in the national thought — including in key ministries with stake-holders citing the Passive Euthanasia Law and Permanent Vegetative Status (PVS) — that rules must be relaxed on morphine for the terminally-ill to ease their pain. The government of India has last week allowed for a more humane availability of morphine for those patients in severe pain like PVS, cancer, Aids and the like.
 Further, the Passive Euthanasia judgement asks that ‘attempt to commit suicide’ be decriminalised, this is being considered by policy-makers in a new proposed mental health law and has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha.


Due to the national awareness of PVS due to the Passive Euthanasia Law, the Government of India’s Parliament has also accepted, in its strengthened anti-rape law in March 2013, Pinki Virani’s recommendations that (a) the law include a “vegetative” clause (b) the perpetrator who puts the victim in a vegetative state before, during or after sexual assault be categorised as “rarest of the rare”, therefore treated on par with being a murderer.



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