Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs. Union of India case stood as a landmark judgement as it discussed the long-drawn issue of passive euthanasia and eventually supported the legalization of passive euthanasia.
Aruna Shanbaug Case Citation: WP (Criminal No.) 115 of 2009
Date of Aruna Shanbaug Judgement: 7th March 2011
Bench: Justice Markandey Katju, Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra
Relevant Provision: Article 21 of Constitution of India
Facts of Aruna Shanbag Case:
- The petitioner was a staff nurse, she was attacked by a sweeper who strangled her with a dog chain and sodomised her.
- The strangulation caused the ‘cut off’ of oxygen supply to the brain due to which the petitioner has been continuous vegetative state.
- There were certain variation regarding her condition because the court-appointed appointed a committee of doctor to analyse the condition of petitioner.
- Whether a person incapable to provide consent, be bestowed non-voluntary passive euthanasia?
- Whether suicide should be considered as a crime under section 309 of I.P.C?
- It was contended on behalf of the petitioner that “life is not mere living but living in health and health is not absence of illness but a glowing vitality” further they relied on Gian Kaur V. State of Punjab case, and started Right to die is a part of Right to life with dignity.
- It was asserted on behalf of Union of India that the petitioner has the right to live in her present state and as per her condition any withdrawal or omission of food, water will be inhuman and contrary to law.
- If such euthanasia is legalized it would be highly misused.
The Supreme Court in Aruna Shaunbag case gave the following reasoning for its judgement:
- It is a settled principle all around the world that “active euthanasia is illegal unless there is legislation permitting it and passive euthanasia is legal even without legislation”
- As per the report presented by the committee of doctors, it can be said that the petitioner is not brain dead, she expresses her likes and dislikes by small gestures and sounds, she smiles and blinks and responds to the outside environment and her surroundings.
- The court also opined that low ethical standards prevailing in our society and with increasing corruption the threat of misuse of passive euthanasia cannot be ruled out which have a potential to breach Article 21 of Constitution of India. A balanced approach needs to be used in these types of sensitive issue where there is a matter of one’s life and death.
- The bench also put forward its view, that section 309 of I.P.C i.e. attempt to commit suicide should be deleted; a person in depression committing suicide needs help not punishment.
DECISION OF ARUNA SHANBAG CASE:
- Considering the condition of the petitioner, in all probability she should be allowed to continue living in such state till her death as there is no prominent reason to allow active euthanasia in this case.
- Considering the chances of misuse the court alone as “Parens Patriae” will decide whether life support should be withdrawn or not, for the people who are incapable to provide consent for themselves. And the views of relatives would hold some value in the situation.
- However, Supreme Court opined that passive euthanasia can be allowed in exceptional and rarest of rare cases with the due approval from patient’s family members and doctors.
- Supreme Court held that it should be sparingly used and should not become a tool of eroding Article 21 of Indian Consitution.
- Courts established a procedure for approval which could be granted under Article 226 of Constitution of India.
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