March 09, 2018
In a landmark judgement passed by five-Judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, the Court has recognized right to die with dignity as a fundamental right. The Bench has hence recognized passive euthanasia and living will in India.
The Supreme Court’s verdict came in a case instituted by NGO Common Cause wherein the Petitioner sought a robust system of certification for passive euthanasia and recognition for “living will” in India. The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the case has also issued guidelines for enforcement of living wills and the procedure to be followed for euthanasia.
What is passive euthanasia– In literal sense passive euthanasia means withholding treatment or supportive measures which would have otherwise saved the patient’s life. On the other hand active euthanasia means to introduce something to cause death.
What is a living will– It refers to the principle where a patient’s consent has been expressed at an earlier date before he became unconscious or otherwise incapable of communicating it as by a `living will’ or by giving written authority to doctors in anticipation of his incompetent situation.
Other important judgments on Euthanasia
Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab– In this case, Five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court overruled the Supreme Court’s holding in the case of Maruti Shri Pati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra and P. Rathinam v. Union of India & Anr. In Maruti Shi Pati Dubal case, the Supreme Court held Section 309 of Indian Penal Code (this makes attempt to commit suicide a punishable offence in India) as violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. In P. Rathinam case, the Supreme Court held that the “right to die” is a right enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution and hence Section 309 of Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional.
In Gian Kaur case, the Supreme Court held that both euthanasia and assisted suicide were not lawfully valid in India.
Aruna Shanbaug v. Union of India- In this case, the Petitioner was in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) for 37 long years. In the case, the Two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court allowed passive euthanasia subject to certain conditions and subject to the approval of the High Court after following the due procedure as laid down by the Court in the case.
 1996 AIR 946