Supreme Court of India upholds passive euthanasia for terminally ill individuals---DONE

Narayan and Iravati Lavate on Supreme Court's judgment on passive euthanasia

A five judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court said passive euthanasia is permissible; the court has framed detailed guidelines using its extraordinary power.

For this reason, he said the reasons given by a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the Aruna Shanbaug case allowing passive euthanasia are "flawed" as the convoluted procedure to get a go-ahead for passive euthanasia makes the dignity of a dying person dependent on the whims and will of third parties.

Announcing its decision, the Constitution Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.K. Sikri, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan said that its guidelines and directives will remain in force till a legislation is brought to deal with the issue.

A living will is a written document by way of which a patient can give instructions that his or her life should not be prolonged with an artificial support system when he or she has reached an irreversible stage of terminal illness.

India's top court delivered its verdict on a public interest litigation filed in 2005 by an NGO called Common Cause - to allow terminally-ill patients to "die with dignity" - and argued by lawyer Prashant Bhushan.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court passed a historic judgement-law permitting Passive Euthanasia in the country.

In the absence of a living will, decisions about medical care become the responsibility of the spouse, family members or other third parties.

"Active euthanasia" involves helping a person die on his or her request "through direct action".

Narayan and Iravati Lavate on Supreme Court's judgment on passive euthanasia
The couple does not suffer from any ailments but wishes for assisted suicide as they do not wish to depend on hospitals

Dr K K Aggarwal, vice -pesident of Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania, and former IMA president, however, said strict guidelines should be put in place to ensure that there is no abuse of the "living will" by relatives of the terminally ill patient.

The top court, in its last year's verdict, said there was no justification to keep the enforcement of Lokpal Act suspended till the proposed amendments, including on the issue of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, were cleared by the Parliament.

Passive euthanasia is a condition where there is withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient. In 2009, activist and journalist Pinki Virani took up her case and appealed to the supreme court to allow Shanbaugh to die.

The apex court said that chairman of the board nominated by the collector shall convey its decision to the judicial magistrate before giving effect to the decision to withdraw medical treatment to the patient.

We agree with the observation made in thereference order of the threeJudge Bench to the effect that the Constitution Bench in Gian Kaur's case did not express any binding view on the subject of euthanasia.

"Free will includes the right of a person to refuse medical treatment", Justice Chandrachud observed.

"This is in contrast to care which is driven by the medical industry whose heroic interventions to extend life can cause vast suffering to the dying person while only delaying the inevitable, also emotionally and financially exhausting families".

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.

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