Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Euthanasia: The Legal Framework in India

Dr. Rumi Ahmad, Assistant Professor, JEMTEC, School of Law, Greater Noida

Euthanasia, assisted suicide (active or passive?) santhara among the Jain Community, all speak more or less about the right to end life. Euthanasia comes from the Greek words, Eu (good) and Thanatosis (death) and means "Good Death, "Gentle and Easy Death. Question arises: “Do we have the right to decide when and how to die?” Some believe that it should be the patient’s right to decide.
Euthanasia literally means putting a person to painless death especially in case of incurable suffering or when life becomes purposeless as a result of mental or physical handicap. Euthanasia or mercy killing is the practice of killing a person for giving relief from incurable pain or sufferingor   allowing   or   causing   painless   death   when   life   has   become   meaningless   and   dis-agreeable.
In   the modern   context   euthanasia   is   limited   to the   killing   of   patients   by doctors at the request of the patient in order to free him of excruciating pain or from terminal illness. Thus the basic intention behind euthanasia is to ensure a less painful death to a person who is in any case going to die after a long period of suffering.

The provision of "life with dignity' is a key issue in the euthanasia controversy for it is in essence "the price of life'. Opponent to euthanasia claims the inadequate funding for palliative care and pain management, and governments' intransigent reliance on nursing homes, all contribute to the despair felt by many who reach old-age, endure frustrating physical limitations, or are afflicted with debilitating conditions.
Euthanasia   is   a   controversial   issue   which encompasses the morals, values and beliefs of our society. Recently   our Supreme Court in Aruna Shanbaug case has already given its decision on this point and allowed passive euthanasia in India. In this case a petition was filed before the Supreme Court for seeking permission for euthanasia for one Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug as she is in a Persistent Vegetative State (P.V.S.) and virtually a dead person and has no state of awareness and her brain is virtually dead. The Law Commission of India also came out with two pertinent reports which dealt with the issue of euthanasia to some extent. The 196th report of the Law Commission on Medical treatment to Terminally Ill Patients (protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners), released in 2006, was the first report on the subject. The second was the 241th report in 2012, named Passive Euthanasia: A Relook, that dealt with the same issue. The former report was the one which came up much before the Aruna Shanbaug verdict, making passive euthanasia permissible under the rarest of rare conditions. While discussing the issue on euthanasia, the court cited many cases viz., P. Rathinam’s case, Gyan Kaur case, Maruti Shripati Dubal’s case etc. and referred many countries viz., Netherland, Australia and Canada where already there is law on euthanasia
The Court in this connection has laid down the guidelines which will continue to be the law until Parliament makes a law on this point. A decision has to be taken to discontinue life support either by the parents or thespouse or other close relatives, or in the absence of any of them, such a decisioncan be taken even by a person or a body of persons acting as a next friend. It canalso be taken by the doctors attending the patient. However, the decision should be taken bona fide in the best interest of the patient. Hence, even if a decision is taken by the near relatives or doctors or next friend towithdraw life support, such a decision requires approval from the High Court

The Union Health Ministry uploaded the draft, titled Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, on its website and has invited comments, via email, from people before 19 June 2016. The Bill provides protection to patients and doctors from any liability for withholding or withdrawing medical treatment and states that palliative care (pain management) can continue. The draft Bill uploaded on the Union Health Ministry website says : Every competent patient, including minors aged above 16 years, has a right to take a decision and express the desire to the medical practitioner attending on her or him," says The Draft Bill should be more clear about competent patient (minors aged 16 years are also competent under the Bill whereas minors are not eligible to sign a contract, to marry or to vote in India), competent medical practitioner etc. 

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