Landmark ruling: Supreme Court says passive euthanasia is permissible

The ruling stems from a petition filed by an NGO 'Common Cause', who had approached the court seeking a direction for recognition of 'living will'.

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In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court on Friday gave legal sanction to passive euthanasia, permitting a person to draft a living will clarifying that he should not be given life support treatment if he slips into coma

The top court said that directions and guidelines laid down by it and its directive shall remain in force till a legislation is brought on the issue.

The CJI, while reading out the judgment, said that though there were four separate opinions of the bench but all the judges were unanimous that the ‘living will’ should be permitted since a person cannot be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she doesn’t wish to live.

The top court had in 2011 recognised passive euthanasia in Aruna Shanbaug case by which it had permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision.

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

What is the ruling all about?
The ruling stems from a petition filed by an NGO ‘Common Cause’, who had approached the court seeking a direction for recognition of ‘living will’ and contended that when a medical expert said that a person afflicted with terminal disease had reached a point of no return, then she should be given the right to refuse being put on life support.

“How can a person be told that he/she does not have right to prevent torture on his body? Right to life includes right to die with dignity. A person cannot be forced to live on support of ventilator. Keeping a patient alive by artificial means against his/her wishes is an assault on his/her body,” the petition said.

The Centre, however, had told the court that the government had in principle decided to decriminalise attempt to suicide which at present is an offence punishable by up to one year jail term under Section 309 of Indian Penal Code.

What is a living will?
A living will is a written document by way of which a patient can give his explicit instructions in advance about the medical treatment to be administered when he or she is terminally ill or no longer able to express informed consent. Passive euthanasia, meanwhile, is a condition where there is withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.

In 2011, the top court had recognised passive euthanasia in Aruna Shanbaug’s case by which it had permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision. The Centre had opposed recognition of ‘living will’ and said the consent for removal of artificial support system given by a patient may not be an informed one and without being aware of medical advancements. It had cited examples of various countries in disallowing creation of living will by patients.

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