Apex court reserves judgement on 'living will'

SC puts foot down says active euthanasia akin to suicide

Additional Solicitor General P S Narasimha, however, said legalisation of "advance directives" would tantamount to waiving the fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of Constitution.

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. When all was going as per the broad views expressed by the five judges, doctor-turned-lawyer R R Kishore raised a query, wondering if anyone, whatever the level of expertise s/he had in medical science, could ever conclusively say a person is sure to die in a particular medical condition. The government told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it didn't agree to a "living will" - authorising withdrawal of medical treatment if he, or she is in vegetative state - because this could be misused. He said the "living will" concept would be misused if it were to be legalised.

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.

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. Of course, competent medical boards must be established in virtually every district to decide all such cases, when the question of ending prolonged agony, pain and suffering crops up. But one can not commit suicide. Shanbaug died six years later, in May 2015.

On a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause, the bench is also looking into if a direction can be given to the government to adopt suitable procedures to ensure that those with deteriorating health or the terminally ill should be able to execute a living will (or advanced plan) and attorney authorisation for termination of life.

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Euthanasia and assisted suicide are acceptable in 10 nations across the world, including US, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium, according to NDTV. Euthanasia on the other hand is when the call is taken by the patient's family and friends.

The second day witnessed arguments on the issue of whether a "living will" be treated as the final word or the examination report of the medical board be given preference over the same.

After senior advocates Arvind Datar and Sanjay Hegde placed various facets and aspects linking passive euthanasia to living will, advocate Devansh Mohta placed a draft pro forma of a living will or advance directive by a person specifying the medical conditions when s/he should not be provided further artificial life support assistance.

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