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RIP Aruna Shanbaug: How Katju feels & 4 other unsuccessful active euthanasia cases

Pleas for euthanasia were made not only on behalf of nurse Aruna Shanbaug, who passed away of natural causes yesterday after 42 years in a vegetative state following her rape, but kin of many others in similar situation also had sought end of their lives in a dignified manner. Most of these pleas were, however, rejected.

Those fighting difficult and debilitating illnesses had also pleaded for euthanasia in the absence of proper treatment or the funds required for the same.

Euthanasia is an act of intentionally ending a life to end pain in the case of terminally ill patients or those in a persistent vegetative state.

Passive euthanasia - withdrawing life support of patients in a persistent vegetative state - is, however, legal in India.

Some of the instances of euthanasia pleas:

2013, Dennis Kumar, Tamil Nadu: A porter, Dennis Kumar from Kanyakumari district sought permission from the district collector to grant euthanasia for his infant son, who had been suffering since birth from an unknown disorder. Unable to pay for his treatment or see his son suffer, Kumar felt euthanasia would relieve both his son and him of their misery. The plea was rejected by a court.

2008, Jeet Narayan, Uttar Pradesh: Jeet Narayan of Mirzapur had pleaded for euthanasia for his four sons who were all paralysed below the neck and were confined to bed. He had written in 2008 to President Pratibha Patil, who rejected his plea.

2008, Dilip Machua, Jharkhand: Dilip Machua who was paralysed following an accident in 2008 had pleaded for mercy killing. His plea was not granted, but Machua died later.

2003, Jharkhand: An acid attack victim in Dhanbad had pleaded for euthanasia or medical support for her skin reconstructive surgery. The acid attack had left her partially deaf, almost blind and with burnt skin all over her face, eyes and nose. With no money for surgery, the victim appealed to the government to fund her or give her the right to kill herself. Her pleas were rejected.

The Supreme Court on March 7, 2011, ruled out active euthanasia - the administration of a lethal injection to end lives of terminally ill patients.

The court permitted only passive euthanasia for patients who were either brain dead, or were in a persistent vegetative state or were supported entirely through a ventilator or any artificial life support.

Justice Markandey Katju, who was heading that bench, wrote in a blog post yesterday:

I have often been asked which was the most difficullt case I had to decide in the Supreme Court, and I usually refer to Hinsa Virodhak Sangh vs. Mirzapur Moti Koresh Jamaat ( see online ).

However, Aruna Shanbaug’s case comes a close second ( see online and on Youtube ). I had to work very hard preparing that judgment, though I got excellent assistance from my then interns, Nithyaesh Natraj, and Vaibhav Rangarajan Venkatesh, who are up and coming lawyers in the Madras high court today. They worked day and night doing the research in that case to find the legislation and Court decisions on euthanasia all over the world

In that judgment, I and my sister Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra, for the first time in India legalized passive euthanasia.

I was therefore sorry to learn of the passing away of Aruna in KEM hospital in Mumbai recently.

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