Passive euthanasia: SC reserves verdict, may recognise living will

Passive euthanasia: SC reserves verdict, may recognise living will

A "living will" is a document prepared by a person in a healthy state of mind specifying that if s/he slides into a vegetative state because of an irreversible terminal illness, the debilitated existence should not be prolonged with the help of life support systems or other medical interventions.

A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra reserved its order, saying that if the right to dignity in death was to be recognised, then there has to be some room in the dying process, too.

The present case has sought the enactment of a law along the lines of the Patient Autonomy and Self-determination Act of the US, which allow the practice of a living will, according to LiveLaw.

The government Tuesday opposed granting recognition to "living will" in cases of passive euthanasia, telling the Supreme Court that it could be misused and may not be viable as a public policy.

As the bench asked if a person can be put on artificial life system against his wish, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said "a robust system of certification is necessary to withdraw life support to terminally ill patients".

Refusing to entertain any doubts on the 2011 judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case permitting a high court-supervised procedure for passive euthanasia, the bench, also comprising A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, said: "We can not take a regressive step".

The Supreme Court, however, said there should be adequate safeguards and implementation of living will would be subject to medical board's certifying that the patient's comatose state is irreversible. The bill recognises the concept of living will but does not make it binding on medical practitioners and says that i can not be executed by any patient since it would be considered void.

The bench said whatever be the living will, it would come into play only if a statutory medical board, after thorough examination of the patient, declares that s/he has slipped into a condition that would inevitably and irreversibly lead to end of life.

The Panel will decide whether or not passive euthanasia can be granted to the patient. This means terminally-ill patients won't be given any sort of life support or treatment after someone, on their behalf, seeks permission from the court.

Article 21 provides that "no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law". "This decision is taken by the medical board on the touchstone of modern technology", he observed.

The bench expressed its inclination for constituting medical boards across the country in each district and said it should be obligatory.

The bench was hearing a PIL filed in 2005 by the NGO, which said when a medical expert opines that a person afflicted with a terminal disease has reached a point of no return, he should be given the right to refuse life support.

Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha said while the proposed bill would take care of passive euthanasia, he cautioned the court from legalising "advance directives" as it would amount to waiving of the paramount fundamental right to life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution.