Passive Euthanasia: Right to Die

The term passive euthanasia is used when a patient dies because physicians stop doing something that keeps the patient alive. In details Passive euthanasia occurs when the patient dies because the medical professionals either don’t do something necessary to keep the patient alive, or when they stop doing something that is keeping the patient alive.

  • switch off life-support machines
  • disconnect a feeding tube
  • don’t carry out a life-extending operation
  • don’t give life-extending drugs

Forms of Euthanasia:

Definitions of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) vary across countries. We may classify according to following heads-

  1. Voluntary Active Euthanasia: When a physician administers a medication, such as a sedative and neuromuscular relaxant, to intentionally and patient’s life with the mentally competent patient’s explicit request. (India’s case)
  2. Involunatary or non-voluntary active euthanasia: When a physician administers medications to intentionally end a patient’s life but without the patient’s request. (Allowed in the Netherlands)
  3. Physician-assisted suicide: When the physician provides medication at his or her explicit request with the understanding that the patient intends to use the medications to end his or her life. (Legal in Germany)

Sequence of Events that led to Legalisation of Passive Euthanasia in India

1973: KEM hospital nurse Aruna Shanbaug was sexually assaulted and strangulated by a ward boy. She remained in a vegetative state following the assault on November 27, 1973.

2009: Journalist Pinki Virani, who authored a book on shanbaug, approached the SC with a petition seeking passive euthanasia, which would involve stopping all of her active treatment.

2011: The SC in response to the petition allowed passive euthanasia for parents in permanent vegetative state. But turned down the mercy killing plea for Shanbaug

2013: Shanbaug was shifted to the ICU with severe pneumonia. It once again led to a debate on the right to debate.

2015: After spending five days in the ICU, she suffered a cardaic arrest, leading to her death on May 18.

Laws surrounding assisted dying across some countries

Netherlands: In 2002, the Netherlands became the first country to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide

USA: Doctors are allowed to prescribe lethal doses medicine to terminally ill patients in five states, but euthanasia is illegal.

Germany: Assisted suicide is legal if the lethal drug is taken without help from anyone.

South Korea: Since 2018, die-well law allows the incurably ill South Koreans to refuse life-prolonging treatment.

Places Where Euthanasia is Illegal: UK, Australia, New Zealand and Philippines

Who, What and How of a Living Will

While recongnising passive euthanasia, the SC has allowed advance directive, or living will by which patients can spell out whether treatment can be withdrawn if they fall terminally ill or are incompetent to express their opinion.

Who can make it?

  1. An adult with a sound and healthy mind.
  2. It should be voluntarily executed, based on informed consent.
  3. It should be expressed in clear and unambiguous terms.

Contents of will:

  1. Circumstances in which treatment should be withheld or withdrawn
  2. Specify that the will can be revoked any time
  3. Name of the Guardian or close relative who will give the go-ahead for starting passive euthanasia

How to preserve it?

  1. The will shall be attested by two witnesses and preferably counter-signed by a first class judicial magistrate
  2. The magistrate shall preserve one hard copy and one soft copy each and forward to the district court registry
  3. Copy will be given to a local govt official, who shall nominate a custodian for the will.

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