Supreme Court upholds passive euthanasia with guidelines - chief justice

  • Supreme Court upholds passive euthanasia with guidelines - chief justice

Supreme Court upholds passive euthanasia with guidelines - chief justice

The Supreme Court has passed a far-reaching judgment today allowing terminally ill patients the right to refuse treatment and die, subject to certain safeguards and conditions.

"Life sans dignity is an unacceptable defeat and life that meets death with dignity is a value to be aspired for and a moment for celebration", the five-judge bench, headed by India's chief justice, said in its order.

The court directives on this will prevail until the Centre brings a legislation.

The court said the life support can be removed only after the statutory medical board declares patient to be incurable.

"This is an important, historic decision, which clears the air", said supreme court lawyer Prashant Bhushan. It includes authorizing his/her family to withdraw life support system in case a medical board declared that they were beyond medical help.

Feb 25: SC cites inconsistencies in earlier verdicts on passive euthanasia including the one given in the Shanbaug case and refers the PIL to a Constitution bench.

When the living will or medical directive is produced by the family to the treating doctor, the hospital shall constitute a Medical Board of three doctors of minimum 20 years standing to examine the patient and the feasibility of executing the "living will". For example, switching off the life-support machines and don't give life-extending drugs.

Justices A K Sikri, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan also wrote their own separate and concurring judgements.

The Law Commission of India first in March 2006 and subsequently in August 2012 had recommended a Bill to provide for the protection of patients and medical practitioners from liability in the context of withholding or withdrawing medical treatment including life support systems from patients who are terminally-ill.

Living will, or euthanasia, is permitted in varying forms in Belgium, Canada, and Sweden. Through the decision, the court has acknowledged the "living will" made by the terminally-ill patients who may go into a permanent vegetative state.

"Human beings have the right to die with dignity", the court said, while hearing a plea on the issue by a non-government organisation.

In 2005, the NGO Common Cause filed a petition before the court, arguing that when a medical expert is of the opinion that a person afflicted with a terminal disease has reached a point of no return, he should be given the right to refuse life support. Meantime, a non-government organisation approached the top court with a plea to also legalise the right to a living will.

"The draftsmen of the Constitution defined their vision of the society in which constitutional values would be attained by emphasising, among others, freedoms, liberty and dignity". It has a basic connect with the autonomy of the individual and the right to self-determination. This decision was made as part of the verdict in a case involving Aruna Shanbaug, who had been in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) until her death in 2015. OR was the first U.S. state to legalise "assisted suicide".