Right To Die With Dignity - Passive Euthanasia Permissible With Guidelines - Says SC

Posted March 11, 2018

The apex court had been hearing a PIL was filed by NGO Common Cause in 2005 seeking a robust system of certification for passive euthanasia and legal recognition for "living will" in India.

Passive euthanasia entails withdrawing artificial life support causing the death of a person who is in a permanent vegetative state, with no chance of recovery.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra said passive euthanasia and advance living will are "permissible".

"The Chief Justice has dealt with the philosophy in his inimitable style". The petition was referred to a Constitution Bench in 2014.

What is a 'Living Will?' American Medical Association says there are two categories of advance directives: (1) a living will, which indicates the types of treatment that an individual wishes to receive or forgo under specified circumstances, and (2) a durable power of attorney for health care, which designates a proxy to make treatment decisions.

If the medical board refuses permission, the person or his family members or even the treating doctor or the hospital staff can approach the High Court whose division bench shall decide on grant or refusal of the approval, with liberty to set up a 3-member independent panel of doctors.

The members of the board will visit the patient in the presence of his guardian or a close relative and form an opinion whether to certify withdrawal or refusal of further medical treatment. For many the living will preserves personal control and eases the decision-making burden of a family.

The top court, in its last year's verdict, said there was no justification to keep the enforcement of Lokpal Act suspended till the proposed amendments, including on the issue of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, were cleared by the Parliament. In 2009, journalist and rights activist Pinki Virani filed a case before Supreme Court, seeking that Shanbaug be allowed to die. "But while the government was in favour of passive euthanasia, as demonstrated by the drafting of the 2016 bill, it was silent on the matter of the living will".

In March 2011, the Supreme Court passed a historic judgement-law permitting Passive Euthanasia in the country.

In a landmark judgment, India's Supreme Court on Friday ruled that "right to die with dignity" is a fundamental right, legalizing passive euthanasia and living wills.

Earlier, the bench had reserved the order on October 11, 2017. We hold that no binding view was expressed by the Constitution Bench on the subject of Euthanasia.

On the other hand, Anamika Mishra, a patient of Muscular Dystrophy, is happy with the apex court's decision. "Death represents the culmination, dying is the process", Justice Chandrachud reasoned.

The judgment led to a flurry of reactions across India. Euthanasia is also commonly called "assisted suicide" due to the above reasons.

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 right of patient who is incompetent to express his view can not be outside of fold of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. "The advance directive gives their thoughts a direction", said Dr Smitha Deshpande, head of the department of psychiatry at Dr Ram Manohar Lohia hospital.