New Delhi: India has started debating the controversial subject of euthanasia with the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday issuing notices to the state governments for their responses on the validity of mercy killing.

A five-judge bench consisting of Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha, and justices J.S. Khehar, J. Chelameswar, A.K. Sikri and Rohinton F. Nariman is hearing a petition filed by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Common Cause, which wants the right to refuse treatment and the right to die with dignity to be incorporated within the right to life.

The concept of a so-called “living will" emerges from there.

A living will allows a person to transfer his/her decision-making to another, in case he/she goes into a vegetative state. The legality of this is under question, as wills are executable only after a person’s death.

Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Common Cause, pressed for the right of euthanasia, which is also called assisted suicide. The court had earlier set guidelines for what it termed passive euthanasia while dealing with the case of Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who, after a brutal 1973 rape by a hospital wardboy, lapsed into vegetative state.

An activisit filed a plea in the Supreme Court seeking euthanasia in 2010. In its 2011 judgement, while ruling out euthanasia (even passive euthanasia) in Shanbaug’s case, the court allowed passive euthanasia, or withdrawing life support or food and sustenance for terminally ill people in a vegetative state and laid down guidelines for this.

Commenting on the debate over euthanasia, attorney general of India Mukul Rohatgi said this was a matter to be considered by the legislature, because it raised multiple issues, aside from coming with the possibility of misuse.

Indeed, misuse of a living will is something that the five-judge bench is concerned with.

‘"How to make this foolproof?" asked chief justice Lodha, stating that where the matter was of life and death, all possible loopholes needed to be plugged.

Bhushan suggested that the living will could be in writing and be registered. Justice Nariman observed that this couldn’t be considered absolutely foolproof.

The case came up before the five-judge bench after a reference from then chief justice P. Sathasivam’s court on 25 February.

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