February 01, 2007

Indian government says no to euthanasia, Supreme Court to decide

Ignoring the Centre's opposition, the Supreme Court on Wednesday admitted a public interest litigation by an NGO seeking to declare 'right to die with dignity' a fundamental right and legalise mercy killing of terminally ill patients.

However, the Centre opposed the idea saying euthanasia could be misused in Indian circumstances. Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam told the bench that the Union Health Ministry discussed the issue with the Law Commission in November-December 2006 and was of the view that it could be misused and abused.

The Bench asked the Centre to file an additional affidavit spelling out its stand on the issue. The court had on May 11, 2005 issued notices to the Ministry of Law & Justice and Health & Family Welfare on the PIL.

The NGO has sought a direction to the Centre to adopt suitable procedures to ensure that a terminally ill patient should be able to execute a document titled "My Living Will & Attorney Authorisation".

The Will could be presented to hospital for appropriate action if the person's condition becomes serious. It also requested the court to appoint a committee of experts to study the issue.

The NGO said sometimes prolonging a patient's life through treatment "leads to extension of pain and agony both physical and mental which they desperately seek to end by making an informed choice and clearly expressing their wishes in advance in case they go into a state when it will not be possible for them to express their wishes."

The Present Law:

According to Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, attempt to commit suicide is punishable with imprisonment up to one year or fine or both. Section 306 makes abetment of suicide punishable with imprisonment up to 10 years with fine.

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