SC shows the way: 'Right-to-die' to be debated in Parliament

Written by: Shradha Singh
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In a landmark decision yesterday, the Supreme Court refrained from passing on a judgement on a plea to legalise passive euthanasia in accordance with the Centre's proposal of allowing a public debate on the controversial issue in the Parliament.

According to media reports a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Justice A R Dave deferred any ruling on the plea seeking a legal pathway to passive euthanasia in India.

SC defers ruling on euthanasia

"The issues of passive euthanasia and Living Will is being considered by the government. However, we may clarify that the pendency of the petition should not come in the way of the authority to take a decision," the Constitution Bench said yesterday.[Read here]

Additional Solicitor General PS Patwalia, appearing for the Centre, advised that the public debate on the contentious issue would be a better course, told an apex court bench of justices Anil R Dave, Kurian Joseph, Shiva Kirti Singh, AK Goel and Rohinton Nariman that the law commission report, recommending such a law, was under examination of the Health Ministry.

Once the Health Ministry has examined report, the Law Ministry will draft the necessary law, Patwalia told the constitution bench seeking deferment of court hearing till July. The bench adjourned the matter till 20 July.

Back in 2014, the Supreme Court of India had issued notices to all states and Union Territories on legalising passive euthanasia. [The long wait: Supreme Court gives green signal to passive euthanasia in UTs]

NGO had filed the plea in 2005:

On behalf of the NGO Common Cause which filed the plea in 2005, Prashant Bhushan has objected to further delaying the judgement, arguing that the government had failed to act on this front for 11 long years.

A news report mentioned that the constitution bench was hearing a PIL filed by the NGO which had argued that when a terminally ill patient has reached such a stage that from there recovery was impossible, then after seeking a medical expert's opinion the patient should be given the right to refuse being put on life-support system which may prolong his suffering.

However, not rushing into making a decision that would potentially affect innumerable individuals and have a far reaching complex social and moral implications the court said: "We are only giving a reasonable time." [Read here].

Euthanasia-the longstanding debate:

Within the confines of the medical world and even beyond it, Euthanasia is a contentious issue- a debate which is willing to be carried out for as long as it takes to decide on the rights of terminally-ill persons to execute ‘Living Will' not to prolong their lives by putting them on life support systems.

As of October 2015, human euthanasia is legal only in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Colombia and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Albania and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Montana, with California the newest entrant into the list.(effective January 1, 2016).[Read here]

Lawmakers in California passed legislation back in 2015 that would legalize physician-assisted suicide, with some of the advocates of euthanasia making it all about "choices" that one can have in the moments of agony.
"It allows for individual liberty and freedom, freedom of choice," said Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco who compared the issue to gay marriage.

Five states in the U.S. permit doctor-assisted suicide for the "terminally ill," only if the patient is an adult and deemed mentally competent by a doctor. [Read here]

The "will" of some paved the "way" for others:

In Belgium, what began as voluntary assisted suicide for mentally competent adults culminated in many people being involuntarily euthanised. Belgium is also the first country in the world to remove age restrictions for euthanasia, thus legalizing assisted suicide for children.

"In the six years from 2007 to 2013 Belgium's euthanasia rate more than doubled, rising from 1.9 to 4.6% of all deaths. This means that nearly one in twenty deaths in Belgium is now deliberately caused. Reasons for the dramatic rise comprise both increases in the number of requests (from 3.5 to 6.0% of deaths) and the proportion of requests granted (from 56.3 to 76.8% of requests made),"- a media report stated. [Read here]

A recent study in Netherlands, which legally approved "doctors to help people with severe psychiatric problems commit suicide", revealed that in more than half of approved cases, the patients declined treatment that could have helped them, and that many attributed their decision to take their lives to being lonely.

With many euthanasia advocacy organizations funding a "mobile end-of-life clinic" many patients are exposed to such kind of a travelling resource staffed by a nurse and a doctor.

"The idea that people are leaving their treating physician and going to a clinic that exists solely for this purpose, and being evaluated not by a psychiatrist but by someone else who has to make these very difficult decisions about levels of suffering and disease ... seems to me like the worst possible way of implementing this process," said Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, a professor of psychiatry, medicine and law at Columbia University. [Read here]

Those arguing against passive euthanasia becoming legal have pointed out that it would inevitably undermine the proper financing of health services for the elderly and disabled, considering our current cost-cutting health care system, an aging society and offer a legally assisted suicide as the cheapest non-fussy means available to end suffering.

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