Indian SC allows passive euthanasia, 'living will'

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. PTI file

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra said passive euthanasia and advance living will are "permissible".

The Indian judges said the right to die with dignity was a fundamental right and that an advance directive by a person in the form of a living will could be approved by the courts.

People on social media have come in vast support of the decision, stating that its encouraging for people who have to suffer pain, and don't want to live any longer because prolonged illness that incurable or if they're in an irreversible coma or vegetative state.

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.

The petition sought for a mechanism for allowing patient to execute a document "My Living Will and Attorney Authorisation" that can be presented to hospitals expressing their wishes as to the medical treatment they would like to receive if they go into persistent vegetative state.

In its ruling today, the apex court said that patients with no will to live shouldn't suffer in a comatose state.

It was only in Aruna ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, the Apex Court had held that passive euthanasia can be allowed but only under exceptional circumstances under the strict monitoring of the Court. It means, letting a patient, who is suffering from an incurable or terminal condition, to die with dignity, relieving themselves from the pain and suffering caused by their medical condition.

In stark contrast to passive euthanasia is active euthanasia.

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". This means that a terminally-ill patient is administered a lethal drug or substance intentionally in order for them to pass away peacefully, in this case, in the event of terminal illness.

Virani's plea to the top court in 2009 for passive euthanasia of Indian nurse Aruna Shanbaug, who had survived in a coma for more than 40 years after she was sexually assaulted, caught the nation's attention.

If the medical board refuses to allow withdrawal of medical treatment, it may be challenged by the executor or his family members before the concerned high court. Constitution bench has cleared the air on all the issues relating to advanced directives or living wills or what we called passive euthanasia.

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