Explainer: How is active euthanasia different from passive euthanasia

Narayan Lavate and his wife Iravati have no pre-existing illnesses

Narayan Lavate and his wife Iravati have no pre-existing illnesses

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court on Friday gave legal sanction to passive euthanasia, permitting a person to draft a living will clarifying that he should not be given life support treatment if he slips into coma.

A five-judge Constitution bench, headed by chief justice Dipak Misra has pronounced the verdict on whether "living will" of a person should be recognised in which a person can make a statement in advance that her life should not be prolonged by putting her on a ventilator or artificial support system by allowing the same.

Recognising the right to die with dignity, the apex court said, "Human beings have the right to die with dignity".

The Centre, however, had told the Court that the government had in principle chose to decriminalise attempt to suicide which at present is an offence punishable by up to one year jail term under Section 309 of Indian Penal Code (IPC).

What is a "living will"?

The SC judgement today says of passive euthanasia, 'It does not cause death since by itself, it does not sustain life'. The Supreme Court has previous year found merit in the concept of "living will", also termed as "advance medical directive", paving the way for further discussion. This led to the case being referred to a larger constitutional bench for review and final judgment.

Living will, or euthanasia, is permitted in varying forms in Belgium, Canada, and Sweden.

In a separate opinion, Justice Chandrachud observed that modern medical science should balance its quest to prolong life with the need to provide patients quality of life. The judgement after a petition which sought the recognition of "living will".

It can be remembered that a journalist had sought court's permission for her friend Aruna Shanbhag from Karnataka, who was in a vegetative state following a sexual assault in Mumbai.

The Supreme Court also settled any ambiguity on allowing passive euthanasia as it cited the landmark Aruna Shanbaug case on 11 March 2011. The petitioner had prayed that Shanbaug should be allowed to die peacefully by stopping the mashed food that she was being fed.

An advance directive is a document that enables competent persons to exercise their right to direct medical treatments in the event that they lose their decision making capacity. But active euthanasia can mean killing a patient in a range of different circumstances.

Passive euthanasia as opposed to active euthanasia, involves allowing a patient to die by curtailing treatment while active euthanasia involves giving a lethal shot to end life.

In case where more than one advance directive is valid, the most recently signed directive would be considered as the "last expression" of the patient's wishes.

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