Right to die with dignity: SC allows passive euthanasia with guidelines

Patient at hospital

SC allows passive euthanasia. Public Domain

In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court today recognised that a terminally-ill patient can write a "living will" that permits doctors to withdraw life support, saying a person with no will to live shouldn't suffer in a comatose state. The top court further added that its guidelines and directives shall remain in force till a legislation is brought to deal with the issue.

However, the elderly couple from Mumbai, who had also sought legalistation of active euthanasia, said they are not satisfied with the Supreme Court order.

On average, 5-10% of the ventilators and life-support systems of hospitals treat patients for an average of one to two months even after multiple clinical judgments show no signs of recovery.

The government should give special rights to those who are above 75 years of age to donate their organs and decide on ending their lives with dignity, Lavate said.

A PIL had been filed by NGO Common Cause in 2005 through their counsel Prashant Bhushan seeking certification for passive euthanasia and legal recognition for "living will" in India.

Passive euthanasia does not involve doing anything directly to end the life of the patient, like poisoning or overdosing the patient. Dr R N Tandon, Secretary General of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), said, "Just as every person has the right to life, they also have the right to die with dignity".

A five-judge Constitution bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, has now given its nod to passive euthanasia legal by recognising the "living will", but with some riders.

The debate grew in 2015 following the death of a 66-year-old nurse, Aruna Shanbaug, who was sexually assaulted and left in a vegetative state for over 40 years.

Passive Euthanasia - To end a person life by not taking the necessary and ordinary action to maintain life, like withdrawing water, food etc.

Passive euthanasia allows halting and removing artificial life-support machines, medicines and food which only prolong life for patients in vegetative state. The right to live should logically encompass the right to stop living - the right to eat does not prevent a man from doing something else in life apart from eating, or the right to sleep does not mean that he can only sleep in exercise of his right.

He said care can be taken to confine permissibility of passive euthanasia only in rare cases, particularly, when the patient is declared "brain dead" or "clinically dead" with no chances of revival.

Acting on the recommendations only in 2016, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released the draft Medical Treatment of Terminally-ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill on May 9, inviting suggestions.

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