Whose life is it anyway? Euthanasia and the Locus Standi debate
March 7, 2011 § 8 Comments
There’s enough said about euthanasia and the right to life – including the right to live with dignity. The Supreme Court has, today, rejected the plea of Journalist Pinky Virani that Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who has been bedridden and in a debatable state of consciousness for almost 30 years after a brutal sexual assault, should be “allowed to die with dignity” instead of having to be “force fed” by the staff of the KEM Hospital who have been caring for her since she was first discovered in her traumatic state.
For me, the issue gets sorted out at a very preliminary stage and- what is the locus standi of the Petitioner, in this case a journalist, to ask for this rather drastic intervention of law?
First things first. Who is Pinky Virani?
Pinky Virani is a journalist of repute, having written several books and articles highlighting the plight of sexually abused children. She also wrote a book, “Aruna’s Story”, entailing the life of Aruna Shanbaug both before and after the assault which led her to being in this vegetative state. It is a powerful book and it does leave a reader in shock, and makes a case out for euthanasia, whether you accept it or not is a different story.
Writing a book about this woman is one thing. I’m afraid petitioning the Apex Court for her feeding tube to be removed is a bit much.
Locus Standi, or standing before the Court, is the principle that a Petitioner must demonstrate some interest in a case to justify their seeking judicial intervention. It is, in a way, the reply to the crudely put “tere baap ka kya jaata hai?”. Every time a Petitioner comes before a Court seeking some relief, he has to demonstrate his locus standi.
There are two exceptions to this rule: one, in Criminal Cases, because the traditional position is that Crimes are against the State, and therefore any person has the right to set the Criminal Justice machinery in motion. You can call the cops to lodge an FIR and they can never ask you what right you have to interfere. Of course there are exceptions to this rule in certain cases.
The second, is when there are matters of Public Interest, commonly known as PILs. In a PIL, the less interest you have in a case, the better – PILs are often thrown out when it is found that the Petitioner has some vested interest in the outcome of the case. You can’t have any further interest than the greater public interest you represent.
Aruna’s case is neither a Criminal Complaint, nor is it a PIL. The first assertion is fairly obvious, the second is not as much. Think about it. Pinky Virani only asked for Aruna’s feeding tube to be removed. She hasn’t asked for a legislation or policy statement on Euthanasia. There is no public interest involved here. Once you’re asking for something like Aruna’s Case to be decided in the facts and circumstances of her case and her case alone, this won’t automatically be precedent for lakhs of feeding tubes around the country to be removed all at once. Laying down a “law on euthanasia” would be a bit much even for the Supreme Court.
That being said, does Pinky Virani have any locus standi in this case? I’m afraid she doesn’t. Virani’s contention was that she was filing the Petition as the “next friend” of the patient. Here’s a definition of “next friend”:
“Someone who appears in court in place of another who is not competent to do so, usually because they are a minor or are considered incompetent. Often the role is filled by a parent or other relative; it can be any legally-competent person whose interests do not run counter to those of the person on whose behalf they are acting . The “next friend” is not a party to the proceeding, nor are they a formally-appointed guardian. Instead, they are considered an agent of the court whose role is to protect the rights of the incompetent person.”
Can it be conclusively said that Pinky Virani has no vested interest in the filing of this PIL? I’m going to court controversy here and say no. Let’s get real – she’s written a book on Aruna Shanbaug which is nothing short of a heart wrenching biography of the woman. If Aruna Shanbaug is allowed to die (let’s not use the word “killed”) I’m pretty sure that Aruna’s Story will go in for a reprint with a new epilogue. I think it’s great that Aruna Shanbaug has so many people who surround her, even though her family has long before faded in the background, caring for her interests, including Virani. But considering a. she is not on life support b. she is being cared for by a competent staff of trained nurses in a Hospital c. she is clearly showing signs of life and response to stimuli, “tere baap ka kya jaata hai?”
Though the Judgement is not uploaded yet, apparently the Supreme Court also found the locus standi issue wanting. In my mind, the case should have been thrown out at the threshold itself instead of wasting precious judicial time in the merits of the arguments.
Just a disclaimer: For the record, I am all for the legalization of euthanasia as long as certain safeguards exist.
Updated: Here is the link to the Judgement. http://bit.ly/g1pmgI Courtesy http://judis.nic.in