Apex court asks Centre to clarify stand on euthanasia

Five-judge Constitution bench sets February 1 deadline for govt

Apex court asks Centre to clarify stand on euthanasia

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre to clarify if life support system of a brain dead patient with no hope of revival can be withdrawn even as the government claimed a bill for allowing passive euthanasia was pending with the Law Commission also supporting the move.

A five-judge Constitution bench presided by Justice Anil R Dave asked Additional Solicitor General P S Patwalia to make the government’s stand clear by February 1.

In his submission, Patwalia said, “There is a proposed law Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioner) Bill, 2006, which is pending. The bill deals with the issue. There is 241st report of the Law Commission which said that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards.”

He also cited 6.7 regulation of the 2002 made under Medical Council of India Act which said that practicing euthanasia would constitute unethical conduct. However, on specific occasions, the question of withdrawing supporting devices to sustain cardio-pulmonary function even after brain death, would be decided only by a doctors’ team and not merely by the treating physician alone, he said.

Hearing a reference made on PIL by NGO Common Cause, the bench, however, said, “We will be limiting scope to the situation where the doctors believe there is no hope of revival of the terminally-ill patient and prolongation of the life support system is not required.”

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, submitted that a person who is terminally-ill and surviving on life support system should be allowed to make a living will to withdraw all medical supports to let him end his or her agony. “Why should such a person be made to suffer assault of ventilator,” he asked, adding a team of doctors can take a call about the time for withdrawal of life support system. On a query by senior advocate V A Mohta, Patwalia the Centre had already taken a decision to decriminalise penal provision relating to attempt to suicide but all the states were yet to ratify it.

The court also appointed senior advocate T R Andhyarujina as amicus curiae, who assisted the court in 2011 Aruna Shanbaug’s case in which it was held passive euthanasia could be allowed with certain safeguards.

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