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India high court rules 'passive euthanasia' permitted under certain circumstances

The Supreme Court of India [official website] on Monday rejected a petition for mercy killing, but ruled [judgment, PDF] that passive euthanasia was permissible under certain circumstances. The case centered around Aruna Shanbaug, a former nurse who was raped and strangled at work 37 years ago and has been in Mumbai's King Edward Memorial Hospital in a blind and vegetative state ever since. Pinki Virani, a journalist and friend, petitioned the court [Hindustan Times report] to stop hospital staff from force feeding Shanbaug and allow her to die. The court stated that, while there is no statutory provision to support active euthanasia, where an individual dies by lethal injection, passive euthanasia through a withdrawal of life support would be permissible with approval by the high court after receiving requests from the government and close family members of the individual and getting the opinions of three respected doctors. The court determined that Virani was not as close to Shanbaug as hospital staff and rejected her petition.

Last year, the German Federal Court of Justice [official website, in German] ruled that emoving a patient from life support is not a criminal offense [JURIST report] if the terminal individual had previously given consent. The landmark ruling legalized the right to die [JURIST news archive] in Germany and overturned the nine-month sentence of a lawyer who was convicted for advising a client to remove her mother from life support after being in a coma since 2002. In 2009, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano [BBC profile] refused to sign an Italian government decree [JURIST report] that would stop the euthanasia of a comatose woman. Eluana Englaro [materials, in Italian] had been in a vegetative state for 16 years, and her father had petitioned to remove her feeding tube. Napolitano refused to sign the decree because it would effectively overrule a 2008 decision [JURIST report] by the country's Court of Cassation [official website, in Italian] to allow for removal of the tube, thus violating the separation of power between the executive and judicial branches. In 2006, a proposed bill that would legalize the option of assisted suicide in the UK was set aside by the House of Lords following opposition from the public and two physician groups [JURIST reports]. Also in 2006, the US Supreme Court upheld Oregon's Death with Dignity Act [JURIST report], the only American state law that allows physician-assisted suicide.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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