When the Delhi High Court reopens next week after a week-long break, it will be called upon to decide on a unique case. A 49-year-old woman from Bengaluru wants the court to stop her friend, a Noida-based 48-year-old man with a debilitating health condition, from travelling to Europe allegedly to undergo assisted suicide or euthanasia — an option not available in India to a person who is not terminally ill.
According to a petition filed before the court on Wednesday, the man has been suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since 2014 and is allegedly planning to travel to Switzerland for a physician-assisted suicide. The woman, who has described herself as a close friend of the patient, has pleaded that his parents, other family members and friends would suffer “irreparable loss” and “hardship” if the plea to halt his travel is not allowed.
The Noida resident, according to the petition, was undergoing a method of treatment called Fecal Microbiota Transplantation in AIIMS for his condition but could not continue in the pandemic situation due “to donor availability issues”. The petition said that his symptoms started in 2014 and his condition deteriorated over the past eight years, making him “completely bed bound and just able to walk a few steps inside home”.
According to the petition, the man is the only son of his parents, who are in their seventies, and has a sister.
The petitioner declined to speak to The Indian Express when contacted through her lawyer. Records attached with the petition reveals that she has been in constant communication with the man and his family members about his health condition. They include a message purportedly sent by the man to the petitioner: “Looking at euthanasia options. Had enough.”
“It is pertinent to mention that there is no financial constraints for providing [him] with better treatments within India or abroad but he is now adamant on his decision to go for Euthanasia, which also affects the life of age old parents miserably,” the petition stated.
According to the petition, the patient earlier obtained a Schengen visa, which allows unrestricted travel to 26 European countries, by providing “false information” that he is seeking treatment at a clinic in Belgium. In reality, the petition claimed, he travelled to Zurich in Switzerland in June via Belgium for the first round of psychological evaluation for euthanasia.
According to the petition, the man has decided to undergo euthanasia through Zurich-based organisation Dignitas, which provides assistance to foreign nationals.
“According to the information received by the Petitioner, his application was accepted by Dignitas, first evaluation was approved and (he is) now awaiting the final decision by the end of August 2022,” the petition claimed.
Medical records attached with the petition show that the patient was given a letter in May, purportedly by a doctor in AIIMS, stating that he was travelling to Belgium for medical consultation and future treatment since the condition is in early stages of research and not very well known in India.
While the petition is limited to not granting the man emigration clearance on the ground that he has made “false claims” to authorities for getting travel permission, and for constituting a medical team to examine him, there is not much a legal precedent to claim the relief.
“I did not find any precedents. The legal position has to be decided by the court. He is not travelling with bonafide intentions. He is misleading the Indian authorities that is why we are praying for not granting him emigration clearance. We have no other option,” said advocate Subash Chandran, who represents the woman in the case.
In 2018, the Supreme Court had delivered a landmark ruling that made passive euthanasia legal for terminally ill individuals, allowing them to decline the use of life support measures, and letting families of those in incurable coma to withdraw such measures.
While Section 309 of IPC criminalises attempted suicide, the Mental Healthcare Act Section 115(1) states that “any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code.”
In 2011, the Supreme Court had turned down a plea of author and activist Pinki Virani for stopping life support to Aruna Shanbaug — a nurse who spent nearly 42 years in a vegetative state after sexual assault before her death in 2015. In 2011, voters in Zurich rejected Swiss plans to ban assisted suicide or outlaw it for foreigners. Many countries, including Singapore, have come under criticism for promoting “suicide tourism”.