Supreme Court reserves judgement on Constitutionality of Euthanasia and living wills


Chief Justice Dipak Misra further added that a living will would relieve the relatives of taking the painful decision of advising doctors to withdraw life support from the patient. The Centre, which concurred with the top court's observation, then submitted that it was ready with a draft Bill to permit passive euthanasia under strict regulation and guidelines.

The top court by its order on March 7, 2014 in Aruna Shanbaug case had permitted passive euthanasia under certain circumstances provided it was backed by the permission of the high court concerned. 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. These are advance directives that people can lay down while being sound of mind, on whether they should continue to get life-sustaining treatment after they reach a stage of total incapacitation, that is, a vegetative state.

The government Tuesday opposed granting recognition to "living will" in cases of passive euthanasia, telling the Supreme Court that it could be misused and may not be viable as a public policy.

The bench said whatever be the living will, it would come into play only if a statutory medical board, after thorough examination of the patient, declares that s/he has slipped into a condition that would inevitably and irreversibly lead to end of life. 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.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, had said since a patient under coma can't express his/her wish, law should allow him/her to put it down in writing in advance that he/she should not be tortured. The matter to be decided was whether the law should allow it (euthanasia). In the present case, the court may have to draw up stringent safeguards for certifying living wills, preferably by a judicial officer, and lay down the exact stage at which the advance directive becomes applicable.

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

The court will also decide on allowing passive euthanasia (to withdraw or withhold treatment) to a terminally ill patient with point of no return with sufficient safeguards. The bill recognises the concept of living will but does not make it binding on medical practitioners and says that i can not be executed by any patient since it would be considered void.

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