Humans have right to die with dignity: Supreme Court allows passive euthanasia

11 March, 2018, 01:32 | Author: Patty Aguilar
  • Patient at hospital

Just as the Indian Constitution provides people the right to live with dignity, on Friday, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court has allowed people to die with dignity too.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO Common Cause, had argued that safeguards were needed while taking a decision by medical boards to withdraw life support of a patient. People now will be allowed to grant a living power of attorney to another.

The government has no problem with passive euthanasia as devised under the Aruna Shanbaug verdict, but it has opposed Living Will in principle.

After living a "happy and satisfied life", the couple Iravati Lavate, 78, and her husband Narayan Lavate, 88, had appealed to the President for active euthanasia citing several reasons for seeking a "mercy killing".

In a historic judgment, the Supreme Court held the right to die with dignity as a fundamental right and gave sanction to passive euthanasia and living will.

The petition sought for a mechanism for allowing patient to execute a document "My Living Will and Attorney Authorisation" that can be presented to hospitals expressing their wishes as to the medical treatment they would like to receive if they go into persistent vegetative state.

Justice Sikri said an advance directive or living will from a patient to stop medical treatment at a particular stage - "particularly when he is brain dead or clinically dead or not revivable" - quells apprehensions of future regret for relatives and criminal action against doctors.

Ms Virani said, "This law has been valid since 2011 and the Supreme Court upheld it today".

The Chairman of the board nominated by the collector, that is, the Chief District Medical Officer, shall convey the decision of the board to the jurisdictional JMFC before giving effect to the decision to withdraw the medical treatment administered to the patient.

Passive euthanasia is stopping all kinds of medical treatment to hasten the death of a terminally ill person in order to relieve them of their suffering. The Judges on the bench were nearly unanimous and in sync with the milestone verdict they passed and provided vocal support to the cause of the terminally ill people who they believe complete a glorious life only if they meet a non-volatile end. The term, "medical treatment", here refers to artificial life support system that can delay death. The Commission had also prepared a draft Bill - the medical treatment of terminally ill patients (protection of patients and medical practitioners) Bill. The court had said, "Active euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill a person, e.g. a lethal injection..." Constitution bench has cleared the air on all the issues relating to advanced directives or living wills or what we called passive euthanasia.

"It has been highlighted that determination of the seemly criteria will keep the element of misuse by the family members or the treating physician or, for that matter, any interested person at bay and also remove the confusion", the panel notes.

While these should do for the time being, Parliament should lose no time in legislating on the subject, arriving at safeguard conditions, the means of their enforcement and the penalties for subverting these conditions on medical professionals and family members of the patient undergoing passive euthanasia, after proper deliberation.


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