The Supreme Court of India on Monday rejected a petition for mercy killing, but ruled that passive euthanasia was permissible under certain circumstances. The case centered around Aruna Shanbaug, a former nurse who was raped and strangled at work 37 years ago and has been in Mumbai's King Edward Memorial Hospital in a blind and vegetative state ever since. Pinki Virani, a journalist and friend, petitioned the court to stop hospital staff from force feeding Shanbaug and allow her to die. The court stated that, while there is no statutory provision to support active euthanasia, where an individual dies by lethal injection, passive euthanasia through a withdrawal of life support would be permissible with approval by the high court after receiving requests from the government and close family members of the individual and getting the opinions of three respected doctors. The court determined that Virani was not as close to Shanbaug as hospital staff and rejected her petition.
As passive euthanasia is permitted in India, there are forces active on behalf of active euthanasia, as reported by Satya Prakash in the New Delhi newspaper Hindustan Times on March 9, 2011:
Even as the Supreme Court legalises passive euthanasia in India, at least two petitions seeking legal sanction for active euthanasia remain pending before it. One such petition is by an NGO — Society for the Right to Die with Dignity — which had in February 2009 moved the apex court seeking legalisa tion of voluntary euthanasia.
Citing Indian cultural and religious traditions in Jainism and Hinduism, the NGO has demanded that voluntary euthanasia should be allowed for terminally ill patients.
Maintaining that the objective of euthanasia was relief from unbearable sufferings and pain, the NGO said there should be legal recognition of "an advanced directive" in the form of a "living will" executed by an individual in full possession of his/her decision-making capacity, without any duress, enunciating the condition of ill health in which he/she would not like to prolong life by artificial support. In such a situation, persons duly authorised by the patient should be allowed to arrange for termination of his/her life.
The NGO’s petition was clubbed along with another petition filed by Common Cause, which contended that "right to die with dignity" was included in the "right to live with dignity" guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
The petitioner also demanded amendment to Section 309 of the IPC (which makes attempt to suicide punishable) to exclude euthanasia. A SC bench headed by justice Markandey Katju, which legalised passive euthanasia on Monday, also recommended scrapping of Section 309 of the IPC.
Priyanjali Ghose of the Mumbai/Bangalore newspaper MiD DAY reported the concerns of one Indian physician on March 9, 2011:
MiD DAY spoke to Dr Devi Shetty, a noted cardiologist and chairman of Narayana Hrudaylaya -- a health care institute -- about thoughts on the SC ruling in the Shanbaug case and what lies in store for India if mercy killing is legalised.
"Personally I am dead against it. I am happy with the judgment in the Shanbaug case, but the moment you legalise it, you are opening a 'Pandora's Box'. It will be misused as there is no mechanism to control or monitor the process of euthanasia," said Dr Shetty.
Dr Shetty explained that passive euthanasia is when one is brain dead and the life support system is removed and feeding of the patient is stopped. The body then dehydrates and the patient dies. While active euthanasia is when an injection is administered to stop the heart.
However, Dr Shetty said that under no circumstances should euthanasia should legalised. "India is not mature enough to handle it. It will take another 20 to 30 years for us to be ready," said Dr Shetty. "It won't go through. Supreme Court has made a recommendation but is not a law yet. A committee will be formed in coordination with the medical council and health ministry."
I have news for you, Dr. Shetty: India will never be "mature enough to handle it." The limited euthanasia program that began in Germany in the 1920s expanded into the murders of millions of Jews and others in the 1940s. During the early years of euthanasia in that country, the Germans were probably the most literate, educated, and cultured people on Earth. If they weren't "mature enough to handle it"--and they weren't--no other nation can hope to do better. The real problem, of course, isn't "maturity"--and note how the adoption of an ethic calling for the destruction of innocent life is equated with "maturity"--but the rejection of the belief that life is a gift from God.
For a survey of "passive euthanasia" in other countries, see this article from the New Delhi newspaper The Hindu on March 7, 2011.