India's Top Court Legalizes Passive Euthanasia, Living Will

India's Top Court Legalizes Passive Euthanasia, Living Will

While right to take one's life is not recognised under the right to live enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, by this judgment the apex court has also said that in the absence of a "living will" by the patient, the family can request the hospitals treating him to constitute a medical board to determine on withdrawal of life support in case of irreversible coma. However, the verdict has put a rider on the "living will" for being permitted with legally valid permission from the family members of the person seeking passive euthanasia and decision by a team of expert doctors that the said person as a patient could not be revived.

The Narendra Modi government said before the court that it has already mooted a bill governing passive euthanasia and "living power of attorney".

Oct 11, 2017: Five-judge Constitution bench led by CJI Dipak Misra hears arguments and reserves the verdict.

Virani said she was deeply grateful to the Supreme Court for its verdict.

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"To deprive an individual of dignity towards the end of life is to deprive the individual of a meaningful existence", said Justice Chandrachud. Different counties have evolved different treatments of these factors when it comes to legality of passive euthanasia.

"Free will includes the right of a person to refuse medical treatment", he said. The judgment decreed that passive euthanasia is legal and valid across the country. "Keeping a patient alive by artificial means against his/her wishes is an assault on his/her body", the petition said.

The bench was hearing a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause, saying safeguards were needed while taking a decision by medical boards to withdraw life support of a terminally-ill patient.

The Supreme Court's order - hailed as "historic" by petitioners - means medical treatment can be withdrawn to hasten a person's death, a practice known as passive euthanasia.

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The bench, which also included 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.

Nidhi Mishra, founder of Senior Express, an initiative to promote active and productive ageing, said that while there was a right to live and die with dignity, it was important to ensure that the SC ruling does not get misused.

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. He further clarified that while active euthanasia is a crime, same is not the case with passive euthanasia as the element of good faith and objective assessment of the caregiver of the patient will protect doctors performing this task.

The 2015 death of 66-year-old nurse Aruna Shanbaug, who was raped and left in a vegetative state for 42 years, reignited India's national debate over euthanasia. Many a times doctor can refuse the living will citing medical advancements as a reason giving a person a chance of living a normal life.

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