Passive Euthanasia: What exactly is it? And which countries have legalised mercy killing?

India’s apex court i.e. Supreme Court on Friday passed an order allowing passive euthanasia in the country. Supreme Court, recognising “living will” made by terminally-ill patients who are likely to go into a permanent vegetative state, laid down guidelines for the same, including who would execute the will and how nod for passive euthanasia would be granted by the medical board.

The decision was arrived by the five-judge constitutional bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra added that the guidelines will be in force till legislation is passed by Parliament to deal with the issue. The five judges had written four separate judgments expressing their views, but concurred on allowing passive euthanasia and advance directive.

What exactly is passive euthanasia?

As per various medical and legal dictionaries, passive euthanasia is the act of hastening the death of a terminally-ill patient by altering some form of support and letting nature take its course. Passive euthanasia can involve turning off respirators, halting medications, discontinuing food and water so the patient dies because of dehydration or starvation.

This somewhat inhuman practice can include giving the patient large doses of morphine to control pain in spite of the likelihood that the painkiller can cause fatal respiratory problems.

Countries that have legalised euthanasia

Euthanasia has been very controversial and contentious topic around the world with many countries uncomfortable discussing it openly. As of now, human euthanasia is legal in Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg and Canada, Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, Montana, Washington DC, and California.

With today’s judgement, India is finally starting a process of dialogue and discussion on the topic of Euthanasia and, with further debate, we could move forward legalising mercy killing.

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