The Supreme Court of India on 7 March 2011 has permitted passive euthanasia for patients lying in Permanent Vegetative State(PVS) but denied a petition for active mercy-killing or Active Euthanasia. This happened when Aruna’s Story was into limelight. Aruna Ramachandara Shahbaug now 60, hails from Haldipur at Shimoga in Karnataka. In November27, 1973, She was assaulted and sodomised by a ward boy at the hospital where she worked. The beastly ward boy, Sohan Lal Valmiki tied a dog’s leash around her neck and yanked her, following which oxygen supply to the brain was affected and she suffered brain damage. She has been lying in such a state for over 37 years now. This is something which itself speaks for Aruna’s plea for Euthanasia.
But the SC of India has decided passive euthanasia which means the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment of the patient should be permitted in India in certain cases. But the plea for mercy killing of Aruna Shahbaug was denied. SC recommended to the parliament that it delete Section 309 which makes attempt to a suicide a punishable offence, saying that who attempt to kill themselves need help, not punishment.
Now the question arises that how does death occur when life support is withdrawn? Does the patient feel pain? The cause of death is determined by the illness. The withdrawal of heart-lung respiration machine will cause a person to stop respiration, leading to cardiac arrest. The withdrawal of dialysis will lead to abnormal levels of electrolytes in the body, leading to cardiac arrest. In the case of cancer, the spread of cancer to vital organs such as the liver, brain or lungs may cause such organs to fail. Doctors point out withdrawal of life-sustaining support is not withdrawal of love & care. After withdrawal of life-sustaining support, doctors will continue to provide treatment to insure that the remaining period of the life is as comfortable and as painless as possible. In Aruna’s case, where there is no evidence of any terminal illness, the withdrawal of the food would result to starving to her death giving her unwanted suffering and pain in her remaining days.
Though apart from India, the US, the UK, Australia and some other countries practices Passive Euthanasia. But Active Euthanasia is illegal in virtually all countries, except in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.