LANDMARK JUDGMENT: Recognizing passive euthanasia, apex court upholds right to die with dignity

The Supreme Court grants legal sanction to passive euthanasia and execution of a living will of persons suffering from chronic diseases and who are likely to go into permanent vegetative state

The Hush Post, New Delhi: In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court on Friday upheld the right to die with dignity and gave legal sanction for passive euthanasia and execution of a living will of persons who are suffering from chronic diseases and are likely to go into permanent vegetative state.

In a unanimous judgment by a constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, the apex court also laid down procedural guidelines governing the advance directive of a living will. The guidelines will operate till legislation is put in place, the LiveMint and media reported reported on Friday.

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The court’s ruling was pronounced on a 2005 plea filed by renowned lawyer Prashant Bhushan on behalf of an NGO Common Cause that had sought recognition of a living will so that an individual could exercise the right to refuse medical treatment at a terminally ill stage of life, media reported.

While the centre was on board on allowing passive euthanasia, it opposed the concept of living will. Additional solicitor general P.S. Narasimha, representing the centre, told the court that consent for removal of artificial support may not be an informed one and could be misused in cases of the elderly, it was reported.

He added that the government had already accepted the apex court’s ruling in the landmark Aruna Shanbaug case on 11 March 2011, which held that a specific category of relatives could seek permission from the court to opt for passive euthanasia on behalf of the person in cases of a terminally ill patient.

The apex court had ruled that such a request would have to be vetted by a medical board on the basis of which the concerned high court would decide whether to permit withdrawal of life support system or not.

Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, reportedly said that under Article 21 of the Constitution (right to life) a person had the right to die peacefully without any suffering and must be allowed to create a living will for a time when he cannot recover from an illness. His life should not be prolonged, Bhushan pleaded in the court.

The 241st report of the Law Commission states that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards and there is a proposed law—Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006 in this regard.

Passive euthanasia entails a patient being allowed to die by limiting medical intervention, not escalating already aggressive treatment, withholding or withdrawing artificial life support in cases that are judged to be medically futile, the media reported.

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