India's top court upholds passive euthanasia, allows living wills in landmark judgment

11 March, 2018, 01:59 | Author: Charlene Valdez
  • Passive euthanasia Arguments for and against the procedure

Dr R N Tandon, secretary general of the IMA, said, "Just as every person has the right to life, they also have the right to die with dignity".

It means medical treatment can be withdrawn to hasten a person's death, if strict guidelines are followed.

He said the reason the court was impelled to recognize passive euthanasia and advance directives is that both bear a close association to the human urge to "live with dignity".

The CJI, while reading out the judgment, said that though there were four separate opinions of the bench but all the judges were unanimous that the "living will" should be permitted since a person can not be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she doesn't wish to live. "For some, even their death could be a moment of celebration".

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Though the government took the lead in decriminalising suicide and is ready with a draft legislation formalising passive euthanasia, it struck a contradictory note in opposing living wills, essentially a person's desire to exit from life at a point of no return.

India's top court delivered its verdict on a public interest litigation filed in 2005 by an NGO called Common Cause - to allow terminally-ill patients to "die with dignity" - and argued by lawyer Prashant Bhushan.

A living will is a written legal document by way of which a patient can categorically give consent in advance about the medical treatment s/he will be undergoing. "That apart, it will strengthen the mind of the treating doctors as they will be in a position to ensure, after being satisfied, that they are acting in a lawful manner", the CJI said. "Active euthanasia has more likelihood of being misused by unscrupulous individuals to attain their ulterior motives and therefore, may not be approved".

In Kochi, a senior priest of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church said legal recognition of "living will" made by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia is against the Indian culture.

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Passive euthanasia involves withholding or discontinuing treatment for a terminally ill person where as active euthanasia involves injecting a lethal dose to a terminally ill person.

Also termed as "advance medical directive", it is a direction issued by an individual that "he or she shall or shall not be given medical treatment in future when or he she becomes terminally ill".

Aruna Shanbaug, 25, was a nurse in the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai when she was assaulted on November 27, 1973 by a sweeper. The apex court had, in 2011, first recognised passive euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug case.

After nearly two years of that, on February 15th, 2016 thecentreopined that it is a deliberate issue and the five judges bench led by the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra heard the argument and reversed the previous verdict.

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"Dying is a part of the living process and hence a part of Article 21. Everyone deserves to die peacefully", Anumeha said. "Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Centre will now have to frame guidelines on the matters around the issue, like who can carry out the process, what is the role of caregivers and such", says Jha.

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