Supreme Court Allows 'Living Will' To Kill With Strict Guidelines

10 March, 2018, 03:05 | Author: Orlando Hughes
  • How sexual assault victim Aruna Shanbaug's case started the national debate on euthanasia

The apex court has also ordered that a "living will" will be permitted for the person seeking this.

While reading out the judgment, the chief justice observed that though there were four separate opinions of the bench, all the judges were unanimous that "living will" should be permitted.

In order to overcome the difficulty faced in case of patients who are unable to express their wishes at the time of taking the decision, the concept of advance medical directives emerged in various countries. It also addresses other important questions, detailing a person's preferences for tube feeding, artificial hydration, and pain medication in certain situations. The bench observed that a person can not be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she doesn't wish to live.

The document should be given effect to only after being fully satisfied that the executor is terminally ill and is undergoing prolonged treatment or is surviving on life support and that the illness of the executor is incurable or there is no hope of him/her being cured. In medical terms, there are two types of Euthanasia- active and passive. It entails deliberately causing the patient's death through injections or overdose.

Pronouncing the paradigm-shifting verdict, the apex court said, "Human beings have the right to die with dignity".

A person in persistent vegetative state (PVS) can execute an "advance medical directive" or a "living will" to refuse medical treatment, the court said, laying down safeguards to prevent misuse of the provision to stop medical treatment of a terminally ill patient who reach a point of no return.

The court said its guidelines set out "will prevail until the government comes out with legislation".

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In India, the debate over euthanasia began years ago after the case of Aruna Shanbaug captured national attention. Shanbaug was a nurse at King Edwards Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, where she was raped by the sweeper of the premises while she was changing her clothes. She died in 2015 while on a ventilator for several days after suffering from pneumonia.

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.

Justice Chandrachud said the issue of death and when to die transcends the boundaries of law, but the court has intervened because it also concerns the liberty and autonomy of the individual. Narayan (88) and Iravati (78) do not suffer from any terminal ailment but are motivated by the will to die after having lived a satisfactory life.

As per definition, it's a direction issued by a terminally ill patient that "he or she... shall or shall not be given medical treatment in future when or he she becomes terminally ill".

Doctors have a mixed reaction to legalising euthanasia. The court says that in this the health experts need to give their statement and person's revival that there is no scope to save his life from any kind of medications.

Earlier in January 2018, the Lavate couple wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind, requesting to approve their plea for active euthanasia. But many feel that India is not yet ready for a decision like this which requires a mix of sensitivity and maturity. "Meanwhile, a law on passive euthanasia is on the ambit", additional solicitor general, P.S. Narasimha, who had represented the Centre, said after the ruling.


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