Published: Thu, October 12, 2017
Medicine | By Megan Pierce

Supreme Court reserves judgement on right to 'living will'

Supreme Court reserves judgement on right to 'living will'

Refusing to entertain any doubts on the 2011 judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case permitting a high court-supervised procedure for passive euthanasia, the bench, also comprising A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, said: "We can not take a regressive step".

Debating the question of law, the Chief Justice then observed that one can not say that you have a right to die (suicide), but you have a right to dignified death. Should the law allow "living wills"?

A "living will" is a document prepared by a person in a healthy state of mind specifying that if s/he slides into a vegetative state because of an irreversible terminal illness, the debilitated existence should not be prolonged with the help of life support systems or other medical interventions.

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. "However, one has a right to say while dying let me not suffer".

He said the decision whether to remove life support or not, can only be taken by a medical board after examining the condition of a patient.

The Supreme Court today reserved its judgement on Constitutionality of Euthanasia and living wills. "This would save the relatives of the patient from the moral dilemma of consenting to withdrawal of ventilator and the doctors of medical negligence charge in future", the CJI said.

The long-debated concept of euthanasia and living will, which is not allowed in India yet, is now being deliberated by a five-bench Constitution Bench based on a petition filed by activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, for the NGO Common Cause.

Senior Advocate Arvind Datar appeared and argued for Vidhi Centre for legal policy while Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde along with advocates Pranjal Kishore and Nitin Mishra appeared for Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine.

Justice Chandrachud observed that a "Living Will" would come into effect, when the medical condition of the patient has become irreversible and when the prolongation of his life can be done only at the cost of pain and suffering which is at a level inconsistent with his advance directive.

Article 21 provides that "no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law". The medical board will take the decision on the touchstone of modern technology. When it was first listed in 2014, the Supreme Court did not pronounce any order but referred the matter to a Constitutional bench.

The bench expressed its inclination for constituting medical boards across the country in each district and said it should be obligatory.

Justice Chandrachud also pointed out that a living will is "not postulated on the right to die but on the right to live, as the person is actually saying he wants to live only till he can without outside support".

The Centre had also told the constitution bench that a draft bill permitting passive euthanasia with necessary safeguards was already before it for consideration.

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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