Six years after sanctioning passive euthanasia – the act of withdrawing life support to a terminally-ill patient – a legitimate option, the Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on ‘Living Will’ in cases of passive euthanasia.
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.
In such a case, relatives will be spared the agonising decision of removing life support and doctors will be guided solely by the ‘living will’. In several cases, the reluctance to pull the plug on a loved one even when s/he is in a vegetative state prolongs the pain of the patient.
The petitioner argued before the top court that the right to die peacefully is a part of Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The Centre, on the other hand, told the five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court that passive euthanasia is already the law of the land.
It pointed out that the apex court itself, in 2011, had issued comprehensive guidelines allowing passive euthanasia in the tragic case of the bed-ridden former Mumbai nurse Aruna Shanbaug.
The Centre, however, objected to legalising the concept of ‘Living Will’, asserting that it may lead to the abuse and neglect of the elderly, especially if they were financially well-off.
A five-judge Constitution Bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, Ashok Bhushan and D.Y. Chandrachud was on Tuesday hearing a petition filed by NGO Common Cause for legalising euthanasia and the Living Will.
But Chief Justice Misra remarked that a living will may relieve grief-stricken relatives the moral burden of deciding whether life support should be withdrawn from a terminally-ill person. Doctors may also be spared of any accusation of foul play or negligence in cases where patients had penned down a living will.