Indian SC recognizes 'living will' of terminally ill patients

Passive Euthanasia verdict Supreme court’s landmark decision embraced by people

Apart from Justice Misra, the Bench comprised of Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan.

The court's ruling was pronounced on a 2005 plea filed by Prashant Bhushan on behalf of NGO Common Cause that sought recognition of a living will so that an individual could exercise the right to refuse medical treatment at a terminally-ill stage of life.

The Supreme Court had in 2011 recognised passive euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug's case by which it had permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision. In a "living will", a person can make a statement in advance that their life should not be prolonged by putting them on a ventilator or an artificial support system. The bench stated that humans have the righ to die with dignity.

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Father Paul Thelakkat, editor of the church-run Sathyadeepam magazine, said the church apprehends that the verdict could be misused as a right of dignified killing of terminally ill patients. February 15, 2016: Centre claims deliberating the issue of passive euthanasia.

The euthanasia fire has been raging in India since 2014 when then Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who is also a medical doctor, called for a debate on the issue. The court has specified on who is authorised to give effect to it. Reports state that the court is also considering consulting a medical board to certify whether the patient in coma is incurable.

The apex court, however, had observed that 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.

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Today's judgment lays down the exact procedure for drafting and approving such living wills. With all due respect, the Supreme Court can not just make a judgment regarding euthanasia. The plea sought declaration of the right to die with dignity as a Fundamental Right under Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Indian Constitution.

Earlier this year, an elderly couple from Mumbai had written a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind seeking permission for "active euthanasia", involves helping a person die on his or her request "through direct action".

The bench said the directive by a person on his wish against using life support systems has to be made in clear unambiguous terms.

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While legalising passive euthanasia on Friday, the chief bench defined Active euthanasia as "a positive act or affirmative action or act of commission entailing the use of lethal substances or forces to cause the intentional death of a person by direct intervention, e.g., a lethal injection given to a person with terminal cancer who is in awful agony".

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