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Supreme Court allows passive euthanasia in its landmark decision

10 March 2018
Supreme Court allows passive euthanasia in its landmark decision

Living will is a written document that allows a patient to give explicit instructions in advance about the medical treatment to be administered when he or she is terminally ill or no longer able to express informed consent.

But some hinted at the possibility of the provision being misused.

Patients, who had appealed to the court for achieving euthanasia have also commended the decision, saying that they can die with dignity and in peace rather than facing a lifetime of suffering.

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court on Friday declared passive euthanasia and the right of persons, including the terminally ill, to give advance directives to refuse medical treatment permissible. The Supreme Court of India upheld the right to die with dignity as a fundamental right. A living will becomes effective only when a person can not communicate his/her desires on own. "Keeping a patient alive by artificial means against his/her wishes is an assault on his/her body", Bhushan said. The Centre, however, had told the court that the government had in principle chose to decriminalise attempt to suicide which at present is an offence punishable by up to one year jail term under Section 309 of Indian Penal Code.

Aruna Shanbaug, who was left with severe brain damage and paralysed after the 1973 attack by a ward attendant in the Mumbai hospital where she worked, died in 2015.

"It's about passive euthanasia".

In the judgment, the five judges quoted literary greats such as Swami Vivekananda, poets Lord Alfred Tennyson, John Dryden, and John Donne among a few, introduced the subject and looked at how life and death have been perceived across time. They also fear having to live without the other. I have been fighting for active euthanasia.

According to the Supreme Court verdict, a "living will" that permits doctors to withdraw life support is needed for passive euthanasia. Integrity and ethical conduct of the medical and legal professions need supplementary fortification, on matters beyond passive euthanasia as well. Through the decision, the court has acknowledged the "living will" made by the terminally-ill patients who may go into a permanent vegetative state.

In India, the debate over euthanasia began years ago after the case of Aruna Shanbaug captured national attention.

Earlier in October a year ago, the apex court reserved its verdict on "living will" in cases of passive euthanasia. These include voluntary-involuntary; and active-passive, of which the Supreme court has given nod to the former. However, the government is yet to pass a law regarding this.