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Supreme Court Refers Euthanasia Issue to Constitution Bench
Feb 27, 2014

Validity of Euthanasia in India will be decided by a Constitution Bench in view of the inconsistent opinions expressed by the Apex Court in its previous judgments. The Supreme Court referred the issue of Legalising Euthanasia to a Constitution Bench on 25 February, noting that its previous judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case was delivered on a wrong premise. The Apex Court had in March 2011 rejected a plea for mercy killing of Aruna Shanbaug, a Mumbai nurse who has been living a vegetative state in a hospital for the past 40 years after a rape attack. While underlining that validity of Euthanasia was already upheld by a Supreme Court judgement of 1996, the court had laid down guidelines to allow Passive Euthanasia. However, a Bench led by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam held that the decision in 1996 did not arrive at a conclusion for validity of euthanasia, be it active or passive.

The Bench said, “In view of the inconsistent opinions rendered in Aruna Shanbaug case and also considering the important question of law involved which needs to be reflected in the light of social, legal, medical and constitutional perspective, it becomes extremely important to have a clear enunciation of law. Thus, in our cogent opinion, the question of law involved requires careful consideration by a Constitution Bench of this court for the benefit of humanity as a whole.” 

The court said the Constitution Bench will go into all aspects of the case to lay down exhaustive guidelines.  The order came on a PIL, filed by NGO Common Cause, which has called for allowing euthanasia for terminally ill people by reading right to die as a right inherent in the right to life under Article 21.  Earlier, Additional Solicitor General, who appeared for the Ministry of Health, had pointed out one form of Euthanasia was already permitted under the law and that the court’s judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case had failed to consider this existing regulation that allowed withdrawing life support system from a person in permanently vegetative state. He drew attention towards Regulation 6.7 of the Code of Ethics Regulations, 2002, in this regard.


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