SC reserves verdict on passive euthanasia

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on whether "living will" authorising stoppage of medical treatment to the person suffering from an ailment with no chance of survival can be allowed in India. It is a legal document which allows you to express your wishes to doctors in case you become incapacitated. These are advance directives that people can lay down while being sound of mind, on whether they should continue to get life-sustaining treatment after they reach a stage of total incapacitation, that is, a vegetative state. "As a medical practitioner for 45 years, I know of cases of patients in coma for years getting back to normal life", he said, asking if the choice of life or death is individualistic, can the PIL petitioner or the court decide this for others. Such living wills may be misused, said additional solicitor general PS Narasimha. The bench said that it would lay down norms governing how such living wills have to be drawn up, executed and given effect to.

Justice Chandrachud also pointed out that a living will is "not postulated on the right to die but on the right to live, as the person is actually saying he wants to live only till he can without outside support". Once the "right to die with dignity" is granted to persons in a vegetative state and thought to be beyond medical help, there's no reason why it can't be extended to those who fear they may suffer the same fate someday. But one can not commit suicide. Should the law allow "living wills"? We are clear that the right to life does not confer on an individual the right to die. Middle class families can be spared suffering in having to pay endless hospital bills if their kin are reduced to a state in which there's no guarantee life support systems plus medication can bring the person suffering a terminal illness back to a state of normality. When it was first listed in 2014, the Supreme Court did not pronounce any order but referred the matter to a Constitutional bench. Guidelines outlined in the Aruna Shanbaug judgment are applicable till a law comes in to place. When the patient decides to end life and is assisted by a doctor, it is assisted suicide.

The government's bill was accessed by News18.

Indicating that a living will (passive euthanasia) can come into operation only after medical board certifies that a person is in an irreversible state of terminal illness, the Constitution Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.K. Sikri, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan felt that the right to die in peace could not be separated from right to life under Article 21. The bill recognises the concept of living will but does not make it binding on medical practitioners and says that i can not be executed by any patient since it would be considered void. If the patient is above 16 years of age, then consent with regard to such a decision has to also be obtained from their parents or major spouse.

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