What passive euthanasia means

The term "passive euthanasia" is defined as withdrawal of medical treatment with deliberate intention to hasten a terminally ill-patient`s death.

Last Updated: Mar 07, 2011, 14:26 PM IST

New Delhi: The term "passive
euthanasia" used by the Supreme Court in its verdict rejecting
a plea for mercy killing of a 60-year-old comatosed rape
victim is defined as withdrawal of medical treatment with
deliberate intention to hasten a terminally ill-patient`s
death.

Various medical and legal dictionaries say passive
euthanasia is the act of hastening the death of a
terminally-ill patient by altering some form of support and
letting nature take its course.

The steps that are generally taken to cause passive
euthanasia include turning off respirators, halting
medications, discontinuing food and water so as to allowing a
person to dehydrate or starve to death, or failure to
resuscitate, they say.

Passive euthanasia also includes giving a patient
large doses of morphine to control pain, in spite of the
likelihood that the painkiller will suppress respiration and
cause death earlier than it otherwise would have happened.

Such doses of painkillers have a dual effect of
relieving pain and hastening death, they say.

These procedures are performed on terminally ill,
suffering persons so that natural death will occur sooner.

They are also commonly performed on persons in a persistent
vegetative state; for example, individuals with massive brain
damage or in a coma from which they are unlikely to regain
consciousness.

Opposed to the concept of passive euthanasia is active
one, which is considered far more controversial and involves
causing the death of a person through a direct action, in
response to a request from the person himself or those close
to him.

A well-known example of active euthanasia is the
death of a terminally ill Michigan patient on September 17,
1998. On that date, Dr Jack Kevorkian videotaped himself
administering a lethal medication to Thomas Youk, 52, who
suffered with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

CBS broadcast the videotape on 60 Minutes less than a
week later. Authorities subsequently charged Kevorkian with
first-degree premeditated murder, criminal assistance of a
suicide, and delivery of a controlled substance for
administering lethal medication to a terminally ill man.

There was no dispute that the dose was administered at
the request of Youk, nor any dispute that Youk was terminally
ill. A jury found Kevorkian guilty of second-degree murder in
1999. He was sent to prison.

PTI