Indian court allows passive euthanasia

Gwen Vasquez
March 11, 2018

Chief Justice Misra said the court has laid down guidelines on who would execute the will and how sanction for passive euthanasia would be granted by the medical board.

New Delhi-In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court on Friday recognised "living will" made by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia.

An NGO Common Cause had moved the top court way back in 2005 seeking right to make a living will authorising withdrawal of life support system in the event of will makers reaching irreversible vegetative state.

In a landmark judgement, the top court laid down comprehensive principles relating to the procedure for execution of advance directive or "living will" and spelt out guidelines and safeguards to give effect to passive euthanasia. Second is the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) or Health Care Proxy and third is the Living Will (LW).

Though the government took the lead in decriminalising suicide and is ready with a draft legislation formalising passive euthanasia, it struck a contradictory note in opposing living wills, essentially a person's desire to exit from life at a point of no return.

"Passive euthanasia" can include turning off life-support machines, not administering life-extending drugs or not performing life-extending operations.

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The bench said if the doctor was satisfied that instructions given in the document needed to be acted upon, he should inform the executor or his guardian or a close relative about the nature of illness, availability of medical care and consequences of alternative forms of treatment. 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. "After this verdict, euthanasia and living will can not be misused as there will be strict guidelines", he said.

According to the Supreme Court rules, it can be executed only by an adult who is of a sound and healthy state of mind and in a position to communicate, relate and comprehend the objective and consequences of executing the document.

Living will explain a situation whether or not a person wants to be kept on life support if he/she becomes terminally ill and will die shortly without life support, or fall into a persistent vegetative state.

Let us now take a look at some of the prominent cases in India that has raged the debate around Euthanasia. In cases where the matter come up before the High Court, the Magistrate will intimate withdrawal of life support and the said order shall be preserved in court records for three years after the patient's death. Pinky Virani, a journalist, had filed a petition to end Aruna's life support through euthanasia and end her suffering, but the court refused because she wasn't brain dead.

"The right of an individual to refuse medical treatment is unconditional". For many people, this life brings with it a lot of suffering because they start to see how their family members are trying to keep them alive while sacrificing their own lives, as well. Further a person of competent mental faculty is entitled to execute an advance medical directive in accordance with safeguards as referred.

Active euthanasia by delivering a lethal injection is still illegal in India.

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