Published: Sun, March 11, 2018
World News | By Laverne Osborne

India's top court allows 'passive euthanasia' for terminally ill

India's top court allows 'passive euthanasia' for terminally ill

"To die as per clearly stated, prior personal choice, without being tethered to tubes and machines in a usually futile bid to slightly prolong life in a comatose state, is a right that everyone must be granted", Reddy said, reacting to the Supreme Court ruling which recognised the right of a terminally-ill patient to make an "advance medical directive", or "living will" refusing medical treatment.

The top court further added that its guidelines and directives shall remain in force till a legislation is brought to deal with the issue.

The five-judge bench held that "right to die" peacefully is a part of fundamental right to life as enshrined under Article 21 of Constitution of India. India with its historic judgment joined the likes of South Africa and Japan to allow Passive Euthanasia. One was meaningless without the other, he said.

Justice Sikri, who wrote a 112-page separate verdict, concurred with the directions given by the CJI and hoped that the Legislature would step in at the earliest and enact a comprehensive law on "living will/advance directive" so that "there is a proper statutory regime to govern various aspects and nuances thereof which also take care of the apprehensions that are expressed against euthanasia". Different counties have evolved different treatments of these factors when it comes to legality of passive euthanasia.

Passive euthanasia is the deliberate withdrawal of medical treatment with the intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, said since a patient in a coma can not express his or her wishes, the law should allow him or her to put down in writing in advance that he or she should not be tortured.

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"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.

"The question that arises is should he not be allowed to cross the doors of life and enter painlessly and with dignity, into the dark tunnel of death whereafter it is said that there is resplendence".

Bhushan had filed a petition to the Supreme Court on behalf of a registered society, Common Cause, seeking recognition of the right to establish a living will. "The safeguards that the court has built in should allay fears that some people may have", he said.

Thus, the jurisprudence on the subject of "dignified death" has been based on the principle of a "living will" or an "advance directive" with regard to terminal illness. However, in case of difference of opinion or rejection by the Medical Board on account of ambiguity in the advanced directive, the family or the hospital can approach the High Court that will expeditiously hear and decide the case. Active euthanasia is banned in India.

Indian law does not permit active euthanasia or assisted suicide, in which patients are helped by doctors to end their lives.

The document should also specify the name of the guardian or close relative, who in the event of the person becoming incapable of taking a decision, will be authorised give consent to withdrawal of medical treatment.

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