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SC makes passive euthanasia easy

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Setting aside the old process for passive euthanasia, the Supreme Court has not made it clear that there would not be any requirement from a magistrate's approval.

New Delhi, Jan 25: Euthanasia or mercy killing, the act of deliberately ending a person's life to relieve suffering, has now been made easy for people by the Supreme Court. There was always a debate whether it should be made available so easily and should the procedure be made easy or tough. However, the Supreme Court is of the view that 'living will' is important.

The five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Justice K.M. Joseph set the guidelines of "living will" that is more workable. At the same time the bench also removed the condition for passive euthanasia as it required the person to get a magistrate's approval for withdrawal or withholding of life support during terminal illness.

SC makes passive euthanasia easy

Setting aside the old process for passive euthanasia, the Supreme Court has not made it clear that there would not be any requirement from a magistrate's approval. Now, the documents for passive euthanasia would be signed by the executor of the "living will". However, the document must be signed in front of the two attesting witnesses.

Regarding attesting witnesses, the apex court held that they should be independent. Last but not the least, the 'living will' should be attested before a notary or gazetted officer.

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What does the law say

The legal position on euthanasia is clear. For now, it is a crime under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) where any attempt to commit suicide is crime and none can take away his or her life. Similarly, those who assist in suicide are punished under Section 306 of the IPC, which deals with abetment of suicide.

Thus, whether it is committing suicide or those who help in it, both actions are punishable. Euthanasia has also been seen a kind of suicide and any medical practitioner helping in it would be a partner in the crime, hence considered as a criminal. However, the courts have allowed 'passive euthanasia' for the illnesses for the patients who are 'terminally ill'.

Now, those who are brain dead can be taken off life support with the help of family members and it would not amount to suicide or abetment to suicide. However, the process was quite cumbersome for patients as it required approval from a magistrate. The guidelines had become unworkable due to the involvement of multiple stakeholders.

Right to die in dignity: What the laws in India say about euthanasiaRight to die in dignity: What the laws in India say about euthanasia

With the latest decision from the Supreme Court bench it would be easy for terminally ill patients to get 'passive euthanasia' without much delay. The judgement came after a PIL was filed by NGO Common Cause that had sought the court's recognition of the "living will" for passive euthanasia among terminally ill patients.

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