Apex court reserves judgement on 'living will'

Apex court reserves judgement on 'living will'

The Supreme Court on Wednesday indicated that it might allow execution of ‘living will’ in cases of passive euthanasia with safeguards like approval by the medical board and where the patient is comatose and their condition is irreversible.

A five-judge Constitution bench presided over by Chief Justice Dipak Misra reserved its judgement on a plea for recognising ‘living will’ for a terminally-ill patient for withdrawing life-support system.

Living will is a written document that allows a patient to give explicit instructions in advance about the medical treatment to be administered when he or she is terminally ill or no longer able to express informed consent.

Passive euthanasia is a condition where there is withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.

The apex court had recognised passive euthanasia in 2011 in Aruna Shanbaug’s case by which it had permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision. The bench, also comprising Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y 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.

Distinction recognised

Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for an intervenor NGO Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, said that the apex 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.

He urged the court to declare that advance directives are an extension of the right to refuse medical treatment and the right to die with dignity and recognition of the legal validity is necessary to give effect to the rights of incompetent patients under Article 21 of the Constitution.

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