Euthanasia: Supreme Court allows 'Living Will' With Strict Guidelines

The Supreme Court has passed a far-reaching judgment today allowing terminally ill patients the right to refuse treatment and die, subject to certain safeguards and conditions.

In a landmark ruling, Supreme Court recognised the right to die with dignity and legalised passive euthanasia on Friday.

The living states when a person should be allowed to die, instead of being kept on life support system.

Right to live with dignity also includes the smoothening of the process of dying in case of a terminally ill patient.

Either the patient can draft a living will, stating his life should not be prolonged by putting on a ventilator, once he slips into an incurable coma, or the close relatives can get approval for a passive euthanasia, that is withdrawing life-saving devices or medicines. The guidelines also cover a situation where there is no living will and how to approach a plea for passive euthanasia.

It was only in Aruna ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, the Apex Court had held that passive euthanasia can be allowed but only under exceptional circumstances under the strict monitoring of the Court. For this, the Apex Court said a medical board would determine whether the patient in a vegetative state could be revived or not.

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Dealing with the mechanism for refusal to take treatment in case of such persons, Justice Bhushan said there are other stakeholders like the family members and the doctors treating the terminally-ill patient who can help the patient in this situation.

A five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, upheld passive euthanasia with guidelines and procedures.

It is a type of advance directive that may be used by a person before incapacitation to outline a full range of treatment preferences or, most often, to reject treatment.

The court has issued detailed guidelines in this regard. "For instance an elderly couple in Mumbai wrote to the Indian president recently asking for permission for active euthanasia - the concern even in this case is - are they choosing this because they have no care system in place?"

The bench was hearing the PIL filed in 2005 by the NGO, which said when a medical expert is of the opinion that a person afflicted with a terminal disease has reached a point of no return, he should be given the right to refuse life support.

"Life is sacred. It should have a dignified natural end". Euthanasia is also commonly called "assisted suicide" due to the above reasons. Medical technology must make advancements for prolonged life and make life easier.

  • Marjorie Miles