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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

SC wants euthanasia debate, seeks states' views in 8 wks

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Centre Says Court Has No Jurisdiction

The Supreme Court on Wednesday decided to adjudicate the legality of active and passive euthanasia and the emerging concept of `living will' after shying away for decades from examining this highly emotive and legally complicated issue.

The Centre objected to the exercise. Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said, "The government doesn't accept euthanas ia as a principle. Our stand on euthanasia, in whichever form, is that the court has no jurisdiction to decide this. It's for Parliament and the legislature to take a call after a thorough debate and taking into account multifarious views."

The court agreed it was a matter of public policy and that Parliament and the legislature were competent to decide it. But counsel Prashant Bhushan, for PIL petitioner NGO Common Cause, said the issues were debated in public for decades and the legislature had not yet taken the first step.

The court wanted a country-wide debate. The Constitution bench of Chief Justice R M Lodha and Justices J S Khehar, J Chelameswar, A K Sikri and R F Nariman sought views of all states and Union Territories on the PIL in eight weeks.
It requested senior advocate T R Andhyarujina to assist the court as amicus curiae.

The issue concerns the rights of a terminally-ill person after doctors rule out chances of survival. Active euthanasia would involve a doctor injecting a lethal medicine to trigger a cardiac arrest. In passive euthanasia, doctors, with consent from kin, withdraw the life support system. Explaining the "living will" concept, Bhushan said: "Given the unanimity that a person had the right to refuse a particular medicine or treatment, why should he or she be not allowed to execute a will in sound mind saying if he or she ever slipped into a vegetative state with a terminal disease with no chance of recovery, doctors shouldn't keep him or her alive with the help of life support? "The constitution bench should consider active euthanasia that provides an option to the terminally ill… to choose the option of right to die. If, after all medical interventions fail and the process of death has commenced, why should the patient not have a right to die." The A-G raised fundamental doubts: "What is dignified death? Who decides when the process of death commences? What if medical research tomorrow finds a cure to the presently terminally-ill (sic) disease? Can the court fathom the problems and abuse that could happen in far-flung places?" He said attempt to suicide is an offence under IPC Sec 309. "Abetment to suicide, too, is an offence," he said. "Euthanasia in any form would fall within the meaning of abetment to suicide. Would 'living will' not fall under expression of an intention to commit suicide? It is a difficult issue to find a solution through a straitjacket formula." The bench agreed with the A-G and solicitor general Ranjit Kumar that legislature would probably be able to debate the issue threadbare. It said the exercise was to find out whether there was a legal framework that could be put in place.


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