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Legalising euthanasia: SC refers matter to constitution bench

The Supreme Court on Tuesday referred the issue of legalising euthanasia to a five-judge Constitution bench in response to a PIL on allowing a person not to continue with artificial medical support.

Based on the report of the larger Constitution bench, the apex court can decide whether a person afflicted with a terminal disease be allowed to refuse essential artificial medical support systems as he does not want to prolong his agony?

The order was passed by a bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam while hearing the PIL on allowing a person not to continue with artificial medical support. The Centre is vociferously opposing it and terming it as “suicide” which could not be allowed in the country.

The PIL, filed by NGO “Common Cause”, argues that when a medical expert opines that the person afflicted with terminal disease has reached a point of no return, then he should be given the right to refuse being put on life support system as otherwise it would only prolong his agony.

The petition was filed in 2008 when the apex court had issued notices to the Union Ministry of Health and Law and sought their response on the issue.

Opposing the plea of the petitioner, Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra submitted that it cannot be permitted in Indian society and it would be against the law and medical ethics.

“There does not arise any question of allowing a physician to take away the life of a patient. Duty of a physician is to protect the life and not to take away the life,” Luthra said.

He said prayer made in the PIL is not tenable in law and it cannot be allowed through judicial exercise.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, contended that those “at the end of their natural life span and likely to go into a state of terminal illness or permanent vegetative state, are deprived of their right to refuse cruel and unwanted medical treatment, like feeding through hydration tubes, being kept on ventilator and other life supporting machines in order to artificially prolong their natural life span”.

The petitioner contended that a person whose life was ebbing out should be allowed to die as the continuance of the life with the support system was an unnatural extension of the natural life span.

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