SC legalises euthanasia: Allows living will to withdraw future life support

Cesar Mills
March 11, 2018

To emphasise the importance of an individual's ability to make personal choices on decisions that affects his or her life, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud mentioned a line from the book The Last Lecture, written by Randy Pausch, a professor at Stanford, in the shadow of a terminal illness.

"Now people who have relatives who are terminally ill and doctors, the law has cleared the doubts for them".

Health experts and the legal fraternity have welcomed the Supreme Court verdict upholding passive euthanasia as "long overdue" but it drew criticism from the Catholic church which said the measure could be misused. The Bench comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh while citing the judgment in Gian Kaur v. The petition was referred to a Constitution Bench in 2014.

Pronouncing the paradigm-shifting verdict, the apex court said, "Human beings have the right to die with dignity".

What is a 'Living Will?' Thus accordingly, a person has an option to give it in writing that in case he/she is in incurable coma stage or a vegetative state, they should be allowed to end their lives, if they wish to. Explaining the importance of applying cost-benefit test even to constitutional principles, Justice Sikri said, "At times, for deciding legal issues, economic analysis of law assumes importance".

"Today, the Supreme Court has delivered a historic judgment". The High Court can also set up a medical board to examine the patient and submit its report. The court has, however, laid down stringent guidelines for the administration of passive euthanasia and the enforcement of living wills.

In the Aruna Shanbaug case, the Supreme Court allowed passive euthanasia "under exceptional circumstances and under the strict monitoring of the Court".

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Let us now take a look at some of the prominent cases in India that has raged the debate around Euthanasia. Active Euthanasia is considered the aggressive form of Euthanasia as it is directly involved with the killing.

On the other hand, Anamika Mishra, a patient of Muscular Dystrophy, is happy with the apex court's decision. The court had said, "Active euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill a person, e.g. a lethal injection... The doctors and the kin can decide for unconscious patients", he said. Euthanasia is also commonly called "assisted suicide" due to the above reasons.

The term "passive euthanasia" is defined as the withdrawal of life support, treatment or nutrition with the deliberate intention to hasten a terminally ill-patient's death.

This is unedited, unformatted feed from the Press Trust of India wire. It includes authorizing his/her family to withdraw life support system in case a medical board declared that they were beyond medical help.

"This judgement will allow people to make a decision well in advance without any pressure, by weighing the pros and the cons".

As per definition, it's a direction issued by a terminally ill patient that "he or she... shall or shall not be given medical treatment in future when or he she becomes terminally ill". But it had opposed the concept of Living Will or advanced directive.

The bench observed that "dignity" was the core which united fundamental rights because fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution sought to achieve for each individual the dignity of existence.

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