SC reserves verdict on passive euthanasia

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In such a case, relatives will be spared the agonising decision of removing life support and doctors will be guided exclusively by the "living will".

Prashant Bhushan for Common Cause submitted that the issue before the court is whether an individual has fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution to express his/her desire in advance in writing to have or not to have extraordinary life prolonging measures to keep him/her alive even though there is no chance of recovery from his/her terminal condition.

While reserving its verdict, the court has indicated that it may lay down comprehensive guidelines on operationalising the idea of living wills.

Narasimha further said that the the Centre had already accepted the court's Aruna Shanbaug ruling where a specific category of relatives were allowed to move the high court to seek permission for passive euthanasia, reported The Times of India.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its judgment on "living will" - a concept where a person decides in advance whether he/she wants to be kept on life support in case of a terminal illness.

The day began with the Centre's submissions on living will. ASG PS Narasimha advocated that a balanced approach must be considered for deciding such cases while expressing his concerns about misuse of a living will. "The magistrate has to examine that the person executing the living will is of sound mind -- that he has taken informed consent..." The court there would be guidelines to ensure that the decisions of the medical boards would be final and are not subject to legal challenge.

The present case has sought the enactment of a law along the lines of the Patient Autonomy and Self-determination Act of the US, which allow the practice of a living will, according to LiveLaw.

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The bench, also comprising Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, said that Right to Life does not mean right to die but a dignified life would certainly include right to die with dignity, as advance directive would take effect once a medical board affirms that the patient comatose state is irreversible.

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.

The Panel will decide whether or not passive euthanasia can be granted to the patient.

In a significant statement, the Modi government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it had agreed in principle to permit "passive euthanasia". Shanbaug died six years later, in May 2015. Euthanasia, on the other hand, refers to the call taken by the family and friends of a patient, who is presumably on life support.

The government's bill was accessed by News18.

However the bill does recognise the difference between a competent and an incompetent patient and states that if a person above 16 years of age understands the consequences of their decision and makes an informed call about the denial of medical treatment, then such a decision would be binding on the doctor.

The draft Bill proposes that if a patient is granted passive euthanasia, a living will of the concerned patient "shall become void and shall not be binding on any medical practitioner".

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