Right to die with dignity: SC allows passive euthanasia with guidelines

Dignity in death Top observations of SC which allowed passive euthanasia

SC allows passive euthanasia, upholds 'right to die with dignity'

In a landmark verdict, India's Supreme Court has ruled individuals have a right to die with dignity, allowing passive euthanasia.

A "living will" is made by a person, in his normal state of mind, seeking voluntary euthanasia in case of terminal illness, if he or she reaches an irreversible vegetative state.

The decision, given by the Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, said, "The right to live with dignity (a component of right to life and liberty under Article 21) also includes the smoothening of the process of dying in case of a terminally-ill patient or a person in PVS with no hope of recovery".

"It is a huge relief to see the Supreme Court judgment that makes an advanced medical directive legally binding on the medical profession", he told The Indian Express.

"In India, you must guard against people terminating the life of another person for properties and other things". The Centre, through its draft "Management of patients with terminal illness-withdrawal of medical life support Bill', tabled in Parliament in 2016, had proposed that patients with terminal illnesses with no chance of revival be allowed passive euthanasia".

What is Passive euthanasia? The guidelines say the "living will" document much clearly indicate the circumstances in which withholding or withdrawing medical treatment can be resorted to, mentioning that the executor may revoke the instructions at any time.

Jan 23, 2014: A three-judge bench led by then CJI P Sathasivam starts final hearing in the case.

In Jaipur, Jain muni Tarun Sagar has welcomed the Supreme Court's verdict to allow passive euthanasia which was in consonance with the tenets of Jainism.

Virani's plea to the top court in 2009 for passive euthanasia of Indian nurse Aruna Shanbaug, who had survived in a coma for more than 40 years after she was sexually assaulted, caught the nation's attention. The five-member court also ruled individuals have the right to specify their wishes in an advance medical directive, or a "living will", to be enacted in the event the individual enters into a vegetative state and loses the capacity to make decisions. "This decision shall be regarded as a preliminary opinion", it said. "The safeguards that the court has built in should allay fears that some people may have", he said.

Dr K K Aggarwal, vice -pesident of Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania, and former IMA president, however, said strict guidelines should be put in place to ensure that there is no abuse of the "living will" by relatives of the terminally ill patient.

The case helped shed light on an extremely complex issue of medical ethics and law.On Friday, the court distinguished between active and passive euthanasia. "The court has held that an individual has full right to decide that he should not take any kind of medical treatment or he should not keep alive by artificial support systems and if that person so decides that the decision of that individual is binding or the doctors and his/her family and they have to respect his/her decision; they have to give affect to his/her decision", Prashant Bhushan, an advocate who appeared on behalf of the NGO Common Cause, which filed the plea, said, explaining the judgment outside the Supreme Court. The apex court had, in 2011, first recognised passive euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug case.

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