While the Supreme Court, in the Aruna Shanbaug case, had allowed passive euthanasia—the withdrawal of life-support, except for drugs for pain-relief, upon request by a terminally-ill patient or her next of kin—it had hemmed this ‘right to die’ in quite tightly. The government therefore has done well to bring the Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, which outlines a sensitive legislative backing for passive euthanasia. It gives due consideration to family/ kin/care-givers, by mandating a three-day waiting period after notifying them of a “competent” (capable of making an informed plea, as defined in the Bill) terminally-ill patient’s euthanasia request, which they can possibly use to try and change the patient’s mind or ease themselves into accepting her decision. But, by making the competent patient’s last word binding on both the medical practitioners treating her and her family/care-givers, the proposed law upholds the fundamental right to life by making the right to a dignified death an unalienable part of it. In the case of “incompetent” individuals, the Bill seeks to minimise any foreseeable legal ambiguity by leaving the matter to the jurisdiction of the high courts, advised by expert panels of medicos formed for the purpose. Euthanasia requests from family/next-of-kin/caregivers are to be decided by high courts within a month—the only problem is that it prolongs the patient’s agony by that much.
Where the government falls short is in disallowing “advance medical directive”—the recorded instruction of a competent, healthy individual that her death not be prolonged in the case of terminal illness. This would have helped forestall prolonged agony for people left in a vegetative state by accidents or sudden, debilitating illness. The need was also to test the waters on active euthanasia, or medical intervention to hasten death. Given the Bill has been published for feedback from the public, it could have been a dipstick for the proposition’s acceptability in the country had it been included.