New Delhi: The Supreme Court is likely to pronounce on Friday its verdict on the recognition of a “living will” of persons suffering from chronic terminal diseases and likely to go into a permanent vegetative state.
A living will is a document prepared by a person in their healthy/sound state of mind under which they can specify in advance whether or not they would like to opt for artificial life support if he/she is in a vegetative state, due to an irreversible terminal illness, in the future or not.
If permitted, the court is expected to chalk out the scope of the right to die with dignity of a terminally ill patient and lay down the way in which it may be exercised as a fundamental right under the Constitution of India.
It is also expected that the court will lay down the modalities and guidelines of the execution of a living will and its authentication. This would include the circumstances under which a living will would operate and the safeguards required to exercise it.
The court’s ruling will be pronounced on a 2005 plea filed by Prashant Bhushan on behalf of NGO Common Cause, which sought recognition of a living will so that an individual could exercise the right to refuse medical treatment at a terminally ill stage of life.
While being on board for allowing passive euthanasia, the concept of living will was opposed by the centre, represented by additional solicitor general P.S. Narasimha, who told the court that the consent for removal of an artificial support may not be an informed one and could be misused in cases of the elderly.
He added that the government had already accepted the apex court’s ruling in the landmark Aruna Shanbaug case on 11 March 2011, which held that a specific category of relatives could seek permission from the court to opt for passive euthanasia on behalf of the patient in cases of a terminally ill patient.
The apex court had ruled that such a request would have to be vetted by a medical board on the basis of which the concerned high court would decide whether to permit withdrawal of life support system or not.
Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, had said that under Article 21 (Right to Life) a person had the right to die peacefully without any suffering and must be allowed to create a living will for a time when he cannot recover from an illness. His life should not be prolonged, Bhushan added.
The 241st report of the Law Commission states that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards and there is a proposed law—Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006—in this regard.
Passive euthanasia entails a patient being allowed to die by limiting medical intervention, not escalating already aggressive treatment, withholding or withdrawing artificial life support in cases that are judged to be medically futile.