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Sumitra Nair
Sumitra Nair

HEALTH

Euthanasia laws around the world

Euthanasia laws around the world

Euthanasia has been a much-debated issue all over the world. In certain countries like Netherlands and Belgium it is legal, while nations like Germany and Switzerland still deem it illegal. The Supreme Court of India, on Tuesday, began a preliminary hearing on a petition favouring passive, volunatry euthanasia. A five-judge constitution bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, will hear the plea. NGO Common Cause presented its plea that the 'right to die with dignity' is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Netherlands was the first country to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2002. Conditions for the act stipulate that the patient must be suffering unbearable pain, their illness must be incurable, and the demand must be made in 'full consciousness'. Post this, 1.7 per cent deaths in Netherlands in 2005 were due to euthanasia. By 2010, the number rose to 2.8 per cent.

United Kingdom, the country that considered the topic at length in the House of Lords in 2015, eventually deemed it illegal. In five states in the US, doctors are allowed to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients. This makes assisted suicide legal in New Mexico, Montana, Vermont, Oregon and Washington. However, it is still illegal in rest of the country. Patients, however may refuse medical treatment on request and life-support systems may be withdrawn in certain circumstances. The French deem the process illegal. However, in 2005, they adopted the LĂ©onetti law. The doctors can take the decision to limit or stop any treatment that is not useful or has no objective other than to artificially prolong life. But, this does not mean that the person's life is taken, but that they will stay sedated until death.

In 2002, Belgium passed a law legalising euthanasia, becoming the second country to do so. As per the law, doctors can help patients end their lives if they are suffering intractable and unbearable pain. But this has to be freely expressed by the patient. Patients can also receive euthanasia if they have clearly stated it before entering a coma or similar vegetative state.

In Germany and Switzerland, the term euthanasia is banned, as it is reminiscent of the eugenicist policies of the Nazi era. Assisted suicide with help of a lethal drug provided by a doctor is illegal. However, it can be allowed in certain cases, as long as there is no physical assistance to the patient in consuming the drug. That is, as long as a terminally ill person is able to take the lethal drug without any help or hand-holding. Example, someone suffering from cancer, lukemia or severe coronary disease.

Closer home, Pinki Virani, a friend of nurse Aruna Shanbaug who was left in a vegetative state in the aftermath of a brutal rape in a Mumbai hospital, filed a petition for euthanasia in January 2011 before the Supreme Court. The court, however, rejected the plea and Aruna died of pneumonia in May 2015. Whether or not the Supreme Court will legalise the procedure or draft a law creating provisions for assisted suicide or euthanasia remains to be seen.

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