Supreme Court hints at making living will a reality

Supreme Court hints at making living will a reality

Supreme Court hints at making living will a reality

The CJI pointed out that a certificate from a statutory medical board that a patient's condition was beyond cure and irreversible would take care of apprehensions of relatives and doctors about withdrawing life support and when it should be done.

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court headed by CJI Dipak Misra dropped loud hints on Wednesday on devising a mechanism to legitimise a "living will" even as it said it would not revisit its six-year-old ruling permitting passive euthanasia.

India has taken the stance of not allowing active euthanasia (where a life ends through the administration of lethal substances). The roadblocks lie in taking this further and allowing a "living will" which the government is resisting, saying there are legal, religious and social implications in legalising the practice of a sane and fit person choosing to die if reduced to a vegetative state in future. However, it does allow "passive euthanasia" where life support is withdrawn for patients in permanently vegetative state.

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The PIL filed in 2005 said when a medical expert opines that the person afflicted with a terminal disease has reached a point of no return then he should be given the right to refuse being put on life support system as it would only prolong his agony otherwise. Judicial wisdom is acceptable in pointing the way, but it's up to the Law Commission and the legislatures to ensure proper laws exist whose letter and spirit can't be misused by, say, greedy relatives in ending the lives of sick rich people so that inheritances may be enjoyed sooner.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the non-governmental organisation, Common Cause, asked the bench whether the state could tell a patient suffering from cancer that only chemotherapy or radiation could help, and that he or she should not try alternative treatment.

The Panel will decide whether or not passive euthanasia can be granted to the patient. The government has opposed the concept of an advance directive, arguing that it would be against public policy and the right to life. For doctors, does it mean an abandonment of their obligation to preserve life?

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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. Euthanasia on the other hand is when the call is taken by the patient's family and friends.

The Centre also informed the court that it had proposed to set up medical boards at district and state levels to decide individual cases of passive euthanasia. The court's observation that it would kick in only after a medical board rules that a person's condition is incurable ought to be sufficient reassurance for those concerned about its possible misuse.

In case of a minor, the consent should also be given by "the major spouse and parents".

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