India's Supreme Court rules to allow passive euthanasia

India's Supreme Court rules to allow passive euthanasia

The Supreme Court March 9 said a person has the "right to die with dignity" and can make an advance "living will" authorizing the withdrawal of life support systems if in the view of medical professionals he or she has reached an irreversible stage of terminal illness.

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 verdict was delivered by a constitution bench comparised with Chief Justice Dipak Misra, justice A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan and is a boost for individual freedom. India with its historic judgment joined the likes of South Africa and Japan to allow Passive Euthanasia. Right to life includes right to die with dignity. The Judges on the bench were nearly unanimous and in sync with the milestone verdict they passed and provided vocal support to the cause of the terminally ill people who they believe complete a glorious life only if they meet a non-volatile end.

Noted senior lawyers like Arvind Datar, Colin Gonsalves and advocate Prashant Bhushan said the judgement has "cleared the air" on passive euthanasia which was "long-overdue". "Neither the law nor the Constitution compels an individual who is competent and able to take decisions, to disclose the reasons for refusing medical treatment nor is such a refusal subject to the supervisory control of an outside entity", Justice Chandrachud said. It is legal in handful of countries namely-Switzerland, Netherland, Canada, certain states in the USA. "The doctors and the kin can decide for unconscious patients", he said.

Also termed as "advance medical directive", it is a direction issued by an individual that "he or she shall or shall not be given medical treatment in future when or he she becomes terminally ill".

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An NGO based in Delhi, Common Cause, had moved the court in 2005 with a plea to make living will a reality. The Supreme Court has laid out the framework for a "living will" and also prescribed the procedure for partial euthanasia which needs to be welcomed.

The court also spelt the guidelines to be followed in cases where there would be no advance directive, saying that such persons can not be "alienated".

In 2011, the Supreme Court rejected a petition for a mercy killing but ruled that passive euthanasia was allowed in some cases. "Ours is also a plea for the right to die with dignity but this order will still not help us", said Mr. Lavate, a retired Maharashtra State Transport employee. The person authorising passive euthanasia has to sign the document in the presence of two witnesses, preferably independent; it has to be countersigned by a Judicial Magistrate of First Class (JMFC), who shall preserve one copy in his office besides sending it to the registry of the district judge to retain it in digital format. "We must say thanks to her", she told PTI in Mumbai.

As per the guidelines of the Supreme Court, a family member or friend of the terminally ill person, seeking passive euthanasia can go to the High Court, which will constitute a medical board that will decide if passive euthanasia is needed.

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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