New Delhi: The Supreme Court is set to reopen the euthanasia debate, having demanded the central government’s response on whether rabies patients should be allowed to undergo ‘active euthanasia’ — a procedure that was ruled impermissible by the apex court in a landmark judgment in 2018.
A bench comprising Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Surya Kant Wednesday sought the central government’s response on a petition demanding that rabies patients be allowed to opt for “physician-assisted dying from willing physicians or active-euthanasia by their consent or through their guardian’s opinion of their best interest”.
Anjali Gopalan, the petitioner for NGO ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, had initially approached the Delhi High Court last year. The high court, however, disposed of the petition in July 2019 opining that there were sufficient guidelines and control programmes in place for treatment of rabies.
The NGO has now approached the apex court, challenging the high court’s refusal to allow its demands.
SC had allowed passive euthanasia
A five-judge Constitution bench of the apex court had in March 2018 allowed ‘passive euthanasia’, through which patients could create a ‘living will’ permitting medical professionals to end their lives if they reach a point of no return.
In ‘passive euthanasia’, medical professionals let patients die by not doing or stopping something that can prolong life, such as putting them off life support.
Active euthanasia, however, is a scenario where medical professionals deliberately take an action that causes a terminally ill patient’s death. This could include administering lethal compounds for ending the patient’s life.
‘100% fatality rate, violent nature of disease’
In its petition drawn up by advocates Noor Rampal and Anuj Aggarwal and filed by advocate-on-record Satya Mitra, the NGO has attempted to carve out an exception for rabies patients within the apex court judgment. The NGO is being represented by senior advocate Sonia Mathur in the Supreme Court.
To highlight the exceptions, the petition states that rabies has a 100 per cent fatality rate and that it can be “more torturous and harrowing to succumb to than other forms of ailments”.
“These unique symptoms of rabies make it an exceptional case where the patients have to be tied and shackled to their beds reducing their personal freedom, movement dignity and integrity,” it says, asserting that the court should consider the “exceptional/ violent nature of the disease and the absence of a cure thereof that makes it a separate class”.
The petition then points out that rabies patients do not have the option of having medical intervention to prolong their lives, making it difficult for their case to be covered by the 2018 judgment. Without such medical intervention, they cannot be put through ‘passive euthanasia’ and only have the option of ‘active euthanasia’.
It also refers to the apex court’s right to privacy judgment, demanding that right to privacy be expanded to allow rabies patients to “exercise their decisional autonomy by respecting their wishes in regards the medical course they want to opt and to allow them to die with dignity”.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.