September 23, 2018

SC Legalizes Passive Euthanasia: Right to Die With Dignity

11 March 2018, 01:30 | Ross Houston

SC Legalizes Passive Euthanasia: Right to Die With Dignity

Passive euthanasia Arguments for and against the procedure

Hence it was inevitable that the Supreme Court judges, as they made their pronouncements on legalising passive euthanasia, should draw inspiration from some of the immortal words articulated on the topic down the ages.

In the process of building a constitutional link between right to life and right to die, the Supreme Court said the economics of extending the life of a terminally ill person with no hope of revival did not make sense in a country where the majority is not able to afford health services.

Parliamentarian Baijayant Jay Panda, who moved a Private Members Bill regarding passive euthanasia in 2016, told YourStory, "I've long supported the right of terminally ill patients to die with dignity, should they wish to, instead of lingering on in pain".

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra said passive euthanasia and advance living will are "permissible". The living will is defined as the person's right to issue a pre directive where in which he or she allows the withdrawal of life support or discontinuation of medicine if a situation arises in future of person being in a terminally ill state.

Though it ultimately refused to do so in 2011, it did pass a landmark judgment back then that opened the door for passive euthanasia in the rarest of rare cases. People now will be allowed to grant a living power of attorney to another.

Though the government took the lead in decriminalising suicide and is ready with a draft legislation formalising passive euthanasia, it struck a contradictory note in opposing living wills, essentially a person's desire to exit from life at a point of no return.

In active euthanasia, a specific overt act is performed to end the patient's life whereas in passive euthanasia, something is not done that would be necessary to preserve a patient's life, the panel noted.

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"Human beings have the right to die with dignity", the court said, while hearing a plea on the issue by a non-government organisation.

The apex court also laid down guidelines as to who could execute the advance directive and how, what should it contain, how should it be recorded and preserved, when and by whom can it be given effect to, what if permission is refused by the medical board and also in the event of revocation or inapplicability of advance directive.

The Press Trust of India news agency said that in each living will, a court-appointed medical panel will review the instructions before they can be carried out. It can be executed only by a person with a sound mind, containing absolute, clear and unambiguous terms and also specify the person who can execute it. "Most patients in public hospitals support the decision not to use life-support systems when we explain the prognosis".

Passive euthanasia entails withdrawing artificial life support causing the death of a person who is in a permanent vegetative state, with no chance of recovery.

The apex court also laid down similar guidelines for cases where there is no advance directive.

While these should do for the time being, Parliament should lose no time in legislating on the subject, arriving at safeguard conditions, the means of their enforcement and the penalties for subverting these conditions on medical professionals and family members of the patient undergoing passive euthanasia, after proper deliberation.

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