June 23, 2018

SC reserves verdict on passive euthanasia

12 October 2017, 05:01 | Winifred Adams

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Supreme Court

After the Centre said it had drafted a "management of patients with terminal illness, withdrawal of medical life support bill", the Constitution bench which is examining the issue advised the Centre to constitute a permanent medical board to decide medical cases of passive euthanasia.

The day began with the Centre's submissions on living will. ASG PS Narasimha advocated that a balanced approach must be considered for deciding such cases while expressing his concerns about misuse of a living will. In a living will, you can outline whether or not you want your life to be artificially prolonged in the event of a devastating illness or injury.

Euthanasia refers to the death of a terminally ill patient that is accelerated by active or passive means to relieve him/her of pain or suffering.

The Centre, which concurred with the top court's observation, then submitted that it was ready with a draft Bill to permit passive euthanasia under strict regulation and guidelines. The CJI said Advance directives might be executed by the person concerned before a Magistrate, who will examine whether the person executing the "Living Will" is of sound mind. The court will also decide on allowing passive euthanasia (to withdraw or withhold treatment) to a terminally ill patient with point of no return with sufficient safeguards.

In case the medical practitioner feels that a competent patient has not taken an informed decision or the patient is incompetent to make a decision, a case can be filed in that area's High Court by the patient's relative, friend or the medical practitioner.

Justice Chandrachud suggested a two-pronged test on when a living will take effect. He said that in the case of a rich elderly person, the chance of misuse is real.

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The long-debated concept of euthanasia and living will, which is not allowed in India yet, is now being deliberated by a five-bench Constitution Bench based on a petition filed by activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, for the NGO Common Cause.

A living will or Advance Medical Directive is a directive given by a person on whether or not he/she shall be given medical treatment in future when he/she becomes terminally ill.

The Supreme Court, however, said there should be adequate safeguards and implementation of living will would be subject to medical board's certifying that the patient's comatose state is irreversible.

The court was hearing a petition seeking that the right to die with dignity should be declared a fundamental right. But one can not commit suicide. "If we recognise the right to dignity in death, then why not dignity in dying?"

He said the decision whether to remove life support or not, can only be taken by a medical board after examining the condition of a patient. Should the law allow "living wills"?

In a significant statement, the Modi government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it had agreed in principle to permit "passive euthanasia". This was to resolve the inconsistencies between the Aruna Shanbaug case (which allowed passive euthanasia under certain safeguards), and the Gian Kaur case (which held that the right to life does not include the right to die).

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