SC Gives Legal Sanction To Passive Euthanasia & Living Will; Upholds Right To Die With Dignity
On March 9, a constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, passed an unanimous judgement that gave legal sanction to passive euthanasia and “living will”. Recognising the right to die with dignity, the Supreme Court allowed execution of “living will”, which would allow patients, if in future he/she is in a vegetative state due to an irreversible terminal illness, to state their wishes in advance regarding whether they would like to artificially prolong their life or not.
SC said life support can be removed only after statutory medical board declares that the patient is incurable. SC also laid down guidelines administering the advance directive of a living will. The guidelines will function till a legislation is put to play.
SC permits passive euthanasia and living will
In 2005, a PIL was filed by an NGO Common Cause. It said that a person should be given the right to refuse life support if medical expert opines that the person having a terminal disease has reached a point of no return.The basis of the petition was, “How can a person be told that he/she does not have right to prevent torture on his body? Right to life includes right to die with dignity. A person cannot be forced to live on support of ventilator. Keeping a patient alive by artificial means against his/her wishes is an assault on his/her body.”
Last year, in October, Chief Justice Dipak Mishra had reserved verdict on its plea. The bench had indicated that it might recognise the execution of living will in cases of passive euthanasia. This was to recognise right to die as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. Article 21 states that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”.
In 2011, a top court, passing order on Aruna Shanbaug’s case, permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients who are incapable of making informed decision.
In January, 2016, the centre said that the 241st report of Law Commission said that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards. It added that in some cases the decision to withdraw devices which sustains cardio-pulmonary function even after brain death shall be taken by a team of doctors and not just by treating physician alone.
What is passive euthanasia and living will?
Passive euthanasia is the deliberate withdrawal of medical treatment with an intention to hasten death of terminally-ill patient.
A living will, also called a directive to physicians or advance directive, is a legal document that lets people express their wishes for end-of-life medical care, in case they become unable to communicate their decisions. It gives the a person to decide whether or not they want to prolong their life artificially in case of devastating injury/illness.