Supreme Court Allows 'Living Will' To Kill With Strict Guidelines

Image used for representational purpose only

Image used for representational purpose only

Passive euthanasia has been legal in India since 2011 when the Supreme Court recognised it in the Aruna Shanbaug case. The top court has said the guidelines will remain effective till a law is in place.

The second part of the judgement permits a "living will" in law, which allows a patient to give consent to withdraw life support if they are reduced to a vegetative state with no chance of recovery.

Laying down the procedure, a fivejudge constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, said the will can be executed only by an adult who is of a sound and healthy state of mind; and in a position to communicate, relate and comprehend the goal and consequences of executing the document.

Passive euthanasia is stopping all kinds of medical treatment to hasten the death of a terminally ill person in order to relieve them of their suffering.

The 5 judges had written four separate judgments expressing their views, but concurred on allowing passive euthanasia and advance directive.

On 25 February 2014, a three judge bench had referred the plea for voluntary passive euthanasia to the constitution bench.

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It includes authorising the kin to switch off life support in case a medical board declares the patient beyond medical help.

The Supreme Court on Friday said passive euthanasia is permissible with guidelines. 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.

"At that time the Supreme Court said they will look at this whole passive euthanasia thing again, which they have, and they have upheld their own judgement", said activist and author Pinki Virani. This means that if a patient has been kept alive by the use of life-saving medical equipment, such as a ventilator, or drugs or substances, such as food administered through a pipe or medicines, then these would be stopped and the patient would be allowed to die a "natural course of death".

Procedure for incompetent patients: In case of an incompetent patient (persons of unsound mind, etc), a near relative, medical practitioner etc, can apply to the High Court for granting permission to withdraw or withhold medical treatment. The case Indians associate most with euthanasia is that of Aruna Shanbaugh, who spent 42 years in a vegetative state. 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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