Supreme Court: The 5-judge Constitution bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and Dr. AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, Dr. DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, JJ reserved the verdict on whether or not a terminally ill patient has a right to die with dignity.
The Court was hearing the reference of the 3-judge bench of P. Sathasivam, CJ, Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh, JJ that has, in Common Cause v. Union of India, (2014) 5 SCC 338, referred the matter relating to right to die or euthanasia to a Constitution Bench and noted:
“although the Constitution Bench in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, (1996) 2 SCC 648 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. So, the only judgment that holds the field in regard to euthanasia in India is Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, (2011) 4 SCC 454, which upholds the validity of passive euthanasia and lays down an elaborate procedure for executing the same on the wrong premise that the Constitution Bench in Gian Kaur had upheld the same.”
The bench had said that it was extremely important to have a clear enunciation of law on euthanasia and hence, invited the Constitution bench to lay down exhaustive guidelines in this regard.
Earlier, in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, (2011) 4 SCC 454, the bench of Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra, JJ, had refused to allow Aruna Shaunbaug, who had been the centre of the euthanasia debate as she spent 42 years of her life in a Permanent Vegetative State, to be euthanised but allowed terminally ill patients to choose to be passively euthanised. It was held that passive euthanasia can also only be allowed by the High Court and an application should be moved before it in this regard. Allowing passive euthanasia, the bench had said:
“if we leave it solely to the patient’s relatives or to the doctors or next friend to decide whether to withdraw the life support of an incompetent person there is always a risk in our country that this may be misused by some unscrupulous persons who wish to inherit or otherwise grab the property of the patient. Considering the low ethical levels prevailing in our society today and the rampant commercialisation and corruption, we cannot rule out the possibility that unscrupulous persons with the help of some unscrupulous doctors may fabricate material to show that it is a terminal case with no chance of recovery.”
The 5-judge bench heard the matter for 2 days continuously and will pronounce the verdict soon.