Supreme Court Indicates Recognition Of Living Will For Passive Euthanasia

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It would mean allowing the withdrawal of life support from patients in a permanently vegetative state and permitting them to die, but the government said it opposed granting recognition to living will, saying it could be "misused".

It pointed out that the apex court itself, in 2011, had issued comprehensive guidelines allowing passive euthanasia in the tragic case of the bed-ridden former Mumbai nurse Aruna Shanbaug. Active euthanasia is when a step such as administering a drug is taken to end a person's life, while passive euthanasia is when the person is allowed to die by withholding treatment.

The bench reserved order after concluding the hearing.The bench was hearing a petition by NGO Common Cause seeking to legalise living will, referred to by the court as "advance directive" that allows a person in a sane state of mind to decide that in the event of his/her slipping into a vegetative state or coma, certified by medical experts to be irreversible, life should not be prolonged with artificial life support system. The bill recognises the concept of living will but does not make it binding on medical practitioners and says that i can not be executed by any patient since it would be considered void. He said the "living will" concept would be misused if it were to be legalised. The matter to be decided was whether the law should allow it (euthanasia). SC had said life support system can be withdrawn on the recommendation of a panel of doctors, consent of family members and permission of high court.

It also said if a medical board certifies that the health of the patient is irreversible and can not be kept alive without artificial support, then the living will's role may come in.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for an intervenor NGO "Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy", said that the top court has recognised the distinction between the active termination of life and the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment with the latter firmly recognised as an expression of autonomy, bodily integrity and right to life.

"The pro forma of the advance directive document must be left to the department of health to draft".

Article 21 provides that "no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law".

"Every competent patient including a minor above the age of 16 years, who is terminally ill, has the right to take a decision and express the desire to the medical practitioner attending him/her", reads the draft Bill. This is followed by passive euthanasia.

The bench expressed its inclination for constituting medical boards across the Country in each district.

Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha said while the proposed bill would take care of passive euthanasia, he cautioned the court from legalising "advance directives" as it would amount to waiving of the paramount fundamental right to life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution.

It had said that on specific occasions, the question of withdrawing supporting devices to sustain cardio-pulmonary function even after brain death, shall be decided only by a doctors' team and not by the treating physician alone.

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