In landmark decision, SC allows passive euthanasia, 'living will'

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In one of the historical judgements passed by the Supreme Court, a bench of five-judges on Friday passed a judgment making passive Euthanasia permissible but with proper guidelines. Living will is an advance directive that allows people to decide in advance whether or not they want to be put on life support in cases of terminal illness.

The petitioner, NGO "Common Cause", had approached the court seeking a direction for recognition of "living will".

In Jaipur, Jain muni Tarun Sagar has welcomed the Supreme Court's verdict to allow passive euthanasia which was in consonance with the tenets of Jainism.

In the absence of a living will, decisions about medical care become the responsibility of the spouse, family members or other third parties.

The government has no problem with passive euthanasia as devised under the Aruna Shanbaug verdict, but it has opposed Living Will in principle.

Finally the Supreme Court took the initiative of hearing the matter on January 23rd 2014 by a three-judge bench led by then CJI P Sathasivam and the Delhi Medical Council supporting the task it was assigned tofileda copy of the proceedings of International Workshop for Policy Statement on Euthanasia in India, to which the Court reversed its previous verdict.

"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.

Noted orthopaedic specialist and vice-president of the Stem Cell Society of India, Dr BS Rajput, said, "The latest advancements of medical science, such as stem cell therapy, should also be tried as a last measure to give patients quality of life". The court says in such instances adopt the same safeguards as applied in cases where the directive is available. A decision for acting on such an advance directive can be taken by the medical board.

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The apex court had, in 2011, first recognised passive euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug case.

While euthanasia is still illegal in most parts of the United States, the doctors are allowed to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients in five state - Washington DC, California, Colorado, Oregon and Vermont.

The apex court said that chairman of the board nominated by the collector shall convey its decision to the judicial magistrate before giving effect to the decision to withdraw medical treatment to the patient.

In the sensitivity of Indian context about life and death, test of legality of the idea posed a complex medical, philosophical, constitutional and religious complications for the bench.

India's top court has allowed individuals to create a "living will", which will permit medical professionals to withdraw life-support systems under certain circumstances. Constitution bench has cleared the air on all the issues relating to advanced directives or living wills or what we called passive euthanasia.

The bench observed that "dignity" was the core which united fundamental rights because fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution sought to achieve for each individual the dignity of existence.

"This is in contrast to care which is driven by the medical industry whose heroic interventions to extend life can cause huge suffering to the dying person while only delaying the inevitable, also emotionally and financially exhausting families".