Passive Euthanasia Legalized by Supreme Court in a Historic Judgement


Passive Euthanasia Legalized by Indian Supreme Court in a Historic Judgement

Passive Euthanasia Legalized by Indian Supreme Court in a Historic Judgement

Chronic terminally ill patients in India will now have the right to decide to end their lives legally through passive euthanasia following the execution of a living will. This was ruled by the Supreme Court on Friday.

Judicial view on Euthanasia in India

The constitutional values of liberty, dignity, autonomy, and privacy were given priority by a constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra while delivering a unanimous judgment. The apex court has also laid down the procedural guidelines that would have to be followed for formulating an advance directive of a living will.

“The right of an individual to refuse medical treatment is unconditional. Neither the law nor the constitution can compel an individual who is competent and able to take decisions to disclose reasons for refusing medical treatment nor is such a refusal subject to the supervisory control of an outside entity,” said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

What is a ‘Living Will’ and What it Should Contain

A living will is defined as a legal document created by a person while they are still healthy and in sound mental condition and one where the individual would be able to specify beforehand their willingness to go on or refuse life support system in the future if they were to become terminally ill and heading towards a permanent state of vegetation.

Passive Euthanasia And Living Will in India

Passive Euthanasia And Living Will in India


Passive Euthanasia And Living Will in India

According to the ruling of the Supreme Court, this written document should contain clear directions and description of the situation when medical treatment can be withdrawn or withheld resulting in death. There should not be any ambiguity in the terms and conditions mentioned in the living will. The will also should contain a clause that would allow the executor to annul the instructions and the authority at any point in time.

The will also need to clearly state that the executor of the will has obtained complete and informed understanding of the ultimate outcome of the execution of such a will. In situations when an executor becomes incapable to take a decision, the will should have the names and details of a close relative or a guardian. Such a guardian or close relative would have natural authority to either offer consent to withdraw medical treatment or to refuse to do so, in accordance with the Advance Directive.


How to create a Living Will in India

The living will further have to be properly preserved and has to be signed by the executor along with two attesting witnesses in addition to being countersigned by the jurisdictional Judicial Magistrate of First Class (JMFC) appointed by the District judge. The Supreme court further directed that the JMFC’s office would keep one copy of such a will – either in hard or digitized format, and a second copy of the document needs to be sent to the Registry of the jurisdictional District Court. Yet another copy would be given to a competent officer of the local Government or the Municipal Corporation or Municipality or Panchayat. The family physician, if any, of the executor, would get keep the fourth copy.

The Aruna Shanbaug Case and the Supreme Court Verdict

This historic ruling of the Supreme Court is being seen to bear a close relation to the Shanbaug case. Aruna Shanbaug is the rape victim who used to work at the King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital and had been lying in a state of coma for over 40 years.

She had been raped on the night of 27 November 1973, by a ward boy of the same hospital where she worked. She was choked during the incident which prevented blood from reaching her brain, sending her to a vegetative state. She had been admitted to the same hospital where she worked and remained in a comatose state for 42 years.

Earlier in May 2011, the petition demanding mercy killing for Sahnbaug was rejected by the Supreme Court. However, a few months earlier on January 24, 2011, the Supreme court had opined that Shanbaug met “most of the criteria of being in a permanent vegetative state” while reacting to the plea for euthanasia.

The historic ruling by the Supreme Court was given in relation to a petition filed by Prashant Bhushan on behalf of NGO Common Cause in 2005. The petition had sought to get living will be recognized by the court which would enable an individual to exercise the right to refuse medical treatment when such an individual is terminally-ill.


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