No mercy killing for Aruna Shanbaug, says Supreme Court

In a path-breaking judgement, the SC allowed "passive euthanasia" but rejected outright active euthanasia for Aruna who is in coma for past 37 years.

Updated: Mar 07, 2011, 22:21 PM IST

New Delhi: In a path-breaking judgement,
the Supreme Court on Monday allowed "passive euthanasia" of
withdrawing life support to patients in permanently vegetative
state(PVS) but rejected outright active euthanasia of
ending life through administration of lethal substances.

The apex court while framing the guidelines for
passive euthanasia asserted that it would now become the law
of the land until Parliament enacts a suitable legislation to
deal with the issue.

Refusing mercy killing of Aruna Shanbaug, lying in a
vegetative state for 37 years in a Mumbai hospital, a two-
judge bench of justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha
Mishra, laid a set of tough guidelines under which passive
euthanasia can be legalised through high court monitored
mechanism.

The bench also asked Parliament to delete Section 309
IPC (attempt to suicide) as it has become "anachronistic
though it has become Constitutionally valid."

"A person attempts suicide in a depression, and hence
he needs help, rather than punishment," Justice Katju writing
the judgement said.

The apex court said though there is no statutory
provision for withdrawing life support system from a person in
permanently vegetative state, it was of the view that "passive
euthanasia" could be permissible in certain cases for which it
laid down guidelines and cast the responsibility on high
courts to take decisions on pleas for mercy killings.

"We agree with senior counsel TR Andhyarujina (who
assisted the court in the matter) that passive euthanasia
should be permitted in our country in certain situations, and
we disagree with Attorney General (G E Vahanvati) that it
should never be permitted," said the bench.

While dismissing writer Pinky Virani`s plea for
subjecting to mercy killing of the KEM Hospital nurse who was
sexually assaulted by a ward boy, the apex court cast the
responsibility of taking a call on passive euthanasia on high
courts, if the plea is made by close relatives or friends who
have strongly opposed such a step.

The bench, in its 141-page ruling, said in the case
of Aruna, the plea for her mercy killing could be permitted if
the Mumbai King Edward Hospital makes it to the Bombay High
Court on her behalf and the high court accepts it.

"A decision has to be taken to discontinue life
support either by the parents or the spouse or other close
relatives, or in the absence of any of them, such a decision
can be taken even by a person or a body of persons acting as a
next friend," it added.

"It can also be taken by the doctors attending the
patient. However, the decision should be taken bona fide in
the best interest of the patient," and should be approved by
the high court, it said.

In the case of nurse Aruna "it is for the KEM hospital
staff to take that decision," and not writer Pinky Virani, the
bench said , adding that "the hospital staff have been
amazingly caring for her day and night for so many long years,
who really are her next friends, and not Ms. Pinky Virani."

"Hence it is for the KEM hospital staff to take that
decision. And the KEM hospital staff have clearly expressed
their wish that Aruna Shanbaug should be allowed to live," the
bench said, rejecting the plea for Aruna`s mercy killing at
present.

PTI