Medicine

SC legalises euthanasia: Allows living will to withdraw future life support

SC legalises euthanasia: Allows living will to withdraw future life support

The top court, in its last year's verdict, said there was no justification to keep the enforcement of Lokpal Act suspended till the proposed amendments, including on the issue of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, were cleared by the Parliament.

When the sanctity of life was destroyed, said a panel of five judges headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, "Should we not allow them to cross the door and meet death with dignity?"

The Supreme Court verdict on the "living will" or the advance directive assigns doctors across the country a crucial role. Choosing not to prolong one's life artificially is a human right and a humanitarian choice, especially when pain is involved.

Father Paul Thelakkat, editor of the church-run Sathyadeepam magazine, said the church apprehends that the verdict could be misused as a right of dignified killing of terminally ill patients. It is a concept associated with passive euthanasia.

"First, because of rampant poverty where majority of the persons are not able to afford health services, should they be forced to spend on medical treatment beyond their means and in the process compelling them to sell their house property, household things and other assets which may be means of (their) livelihood".

What is the government view on passive euthanasia? "That apart, it will strengthen the mind of the treating doctors as they will be in a position to ensure, after being satisfied, that they are acting in a lawful manner", the CJI said. The five-member court also ruled individuals have the right to specify their wishes in an advance medical directive, or a "living will", to be enacted in the event the individual enters into a vegetative state and loses the capacity to make decisions.

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The bench, which also included judges A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, laid down guidelines on who would execute the will and how the nod for passive euthanasia would be granted by the medical board.

K Venkatesh: A young 25-year-old man from Hyderabad suffering from Muscular Dystrophia pleaded before the authorities to help him end his life only to die two days after his plea was rejected by the Andhra Pradesh High Court. "However, it should be given effect to only after being fully satisfied that the executor is terminally ill and is undergoing prolonged treatment or is surviving on life support and that the illness of the executor is incurable or there is no hope of him/her being cured", the court said. Anumeha Jha, senior research analyst for the NGO, said that in 2016, the government's medical Bill addressed passive euthanasia as it was after Aruna Shanbaug's case.

The apex court said that advance directives for terminally-ill patients could be issued and executed by the next friend and relatives of such person after which a medical board would consider it.

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 can not be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she doesn't wish to live.

In December 2017, an elderly couple from Mumbai wrote to the President seeking permission for active euthanasia.