SC recognises passive euthanasia, ‘living will’

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 10 Mar 2018 09:20:42



A person has right to die with dignity, says apex court


THE Supreme Court on Friday said that a person has the “right to die with dignity” and can make an advance “living will” authorising the withdrawal of life support system if in medical view he or she has reached an irreversible stage of terminal illness.

In the historic decision, the top court said that right to lead a healthy life also includes “leaving the world in a peaceful and dignified manner” and an adult “has right to refuse medical treatment including withdrawal from life saving devices”.

While allowing adults “who are of a sound and healthy state of mind” to make the advance directive or living will, a five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, however, attached strict conditions and framed guidelines to be followed for executing these.

A living will is a written document by way of which a patient can give instructions that his or her life should not be prolonged with an artificial support system when he or she has reached a irreversible stage of terminal illness. Passive euthanasia is a condition where there is withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.

The bench, also including judges A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, laid down guidelines on who would execute the will and how the nod for passive euthanasia would be granted by the medical board.
“To deprive an individual of dignity towards the end of life is to deprive the individual of a meaningful existence,” said Justice Chandrachud.

He said the reason which has impelled the court to recognise passive euthanasia and advance directives is that both bear a close association to the human urge to “live with dignity”.

“The right to a dignified existence, the liberty to make decisions and choices and the autonomy of the individual are central to the quest to live a meaningful life. Liberty, dignity and autonomy are essential to the pursuit of happiness and to find meaning in human existence.”
The court said the life support can be removed only after the statutory medical board declares the patient to be incurable.

The bench said its guidelines and directives should remain in force till Parliament makes legislation on this issue.
The bench clearly specified that for executing the living will, the person has to be in a position to communicate, relate and comprehend the purpose and consequences of executing the document.
It “must be voluntarily executed” and “without any coercion or inducement or compulsion and after having full knowledge or information”.

The living will shall be “clearly stating as to when medical treatment may be withdrawn” or no specific medical treatment shall be given which will only have the effect of delaying the process of death that may otherwise cause him or her pain, anguish and suffering and further put him or her in a state of indignity, said the bench.
The bench said it should also mention that the “executor may revoke the instructions or authority at any time”.