The Supreme Court on Tuesday referred the issue of legalising euthanasia in the country to a five-judge Constitution bench, saying there has been “inconsistent” opinion in its previous verdicts on withdrawing medical support to terminally ill patients. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said that it is extremely important to have a clear enunciation of law on this issue and referred the matter to a larger Constitution bench.
The court said that the Constitution bench will go into all aspects of the issue and take a final decision on framing guidelines. The Bench, also comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and S K Singh, passed the order on a PIL to allow a terminally ill person not to continue with artificial medical support. The Centre had vociferously opposed the plea terming it as “suicide”, which could not be allowed in the country.
With today’s direction, the apex court’s earlier order, which had rejected the plea for active euthanasia, will also be relooked into by the larger bench. The PIL filed by NGO “Common Cause” had contended 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. The petitioner’s plea was earlier opposed by Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra, who had submitted that euthanasia cannot be permitted in Indian society and it would be against the law and medical ethics.
He had said prayer made in the PIL was not tenable in law and it cannot be allowed through judicial exercise. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, had 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 had 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.