She remained at centre of debate on euthanasia

She remained at centre of debate on euthanasia

Aruna Shanbaug, the nurse who lived in coma for 42 years after a sexual assault, became the centre of debate on euthanasia in the country.

Her case was first raised in the Supreme Court in 2009 by journalist and author Pinki Virani, who sought permission for euthanasia for Aruna citing that the victim was being forced to live a life stripped of basic dignity.

Though the court in 2011 dismissed Virani’s plea for mercy killing, it ruled in favour of passive euthanasia in case of patients in permanent vegetative state, saying that such a decision arrived at by the near relatives and doctors can be undertaken only after the approval of a high court.

“A decision has to be taken to discontinue life support either by the parents or the spouse or other close relatives, or in the absence of any of them, such a decision can be taken even by a person or a body of persons acting as a next friend. It can also be taken by the doctors attending the patient. However, the decision should be taken bona fide in the best interest of the patient,” a bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra held.

Further, the court said the decision should be approved by the high court as there was always a possibility of such an option being misused by unscrupulous persons who wish to inherit or grab the property of the terminally-ill patient.

The KEM hospital staff had urged the court to let her live. The court rejected Virani’s plea. It noted that she was not next friend of the patient.

However, a three-judge bench presided over by then CJI Justice P Sathasivam in 2014 referred the issue of granting legal sanction to euthanasia to a Constitution bench for “an authoritative opinion”.Acting on a plea by NGO “Common Cause”, the SC has said the Constitution bench needs to go into all aspects of law and lay down exhaustive guidelines for the benefit of humanity as a whole.

The court also found that the previous verdict in Aruna’s case was based on a wrong premise that a Constitution bench had in the Gian Kaur’s case (1996). Although the Constitution bench in Gian Kaur (1996) had upheld that the “right to live with dignity” under Article 21 will be inclusive of “right to die with dignity”, the decision does not arrive at a conclusion for validity of euthanasia be it active or passive, the court then held.

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