Long-awaited SC verdict on living will has cleared the air: Lawyers

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Long-awaited SC verdict on living will has cleared the air: Lawyers

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court has paved the way for "passive euthanasia" by allowing withdrawal of life support to a patient if s/he slips into irreversible coma.

Mumbai: City-based elderly couple Narayan Lavate (86) and his wife Iravati Lavate (79), who had written to the President's office, seeking permission for "active euthanasia, ' are "dissatisfied" with the Supreme Court's judgment on Friday, which allowed only 'passive euthanasia" with a set of guidelines to govern it when permitted.

The top court, in its last year's verdict, said there was no justification to keep the enforcement of Lokpal Act suspended till the proposed amendments, including on the issue of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, were cleared by the Parliament. With all due respect, the Supreme Court can not just make a judgment regarding euthanasia.

Devoting a separate chapter on "Economics of Euthanasia" in his 112-page judgment, Justice Sikri said, "When we consider the matter of euthanasia in the context of economic principles, it becomes another reason to support the aforesaid conclusion".

It is now legal in India for terminally ill patients to refuse medical treatment. Different counties have evolved different treatments of these factors when it comes to legality of passive euthanasia. "Hence, the Constitution protects the legitimate expectation of every person to lead a life of dignity until death occurs", he said.

What is the government view on passive euthanasia? "The doctors and the kin can decide for unconscious patients", he said. Anumeha Jha, senior research analyst for the NGO, said that in 2016, the government's medical Bill addressed passive euthanasia as it was after Aruna Shanbaug's case.

The court also considered such cases where no living will or directive is left behind. "We can not take a life but it should also be remembered that every human has a right to live and die healthy", says the head nurse at KEM.

The petitioner, NGO "Common Cause", had approached the court seeking a direction for recognition of "living will". It differs from active euthanasia, which means killing a person through the use of lethal substance or force.

Right to life and liberty as envisaged under Article 21 is "meaningless" unless it encompasses within its sphere the individual dignity, the CJI said, adding, "Though the sanctity of life has to be kept on the high pedestal yet in cases of terminally-ill persons or PVS patients where there is no hope for revival, priority shall be given to the advance directive and the right of self-determination".

The Supreme Court's order - hailed as "historic" by petitioners - means medical treatment can be withdrawn to hasten a person's death, a practice known as passive euthanasia.

BJP MP Vinay Sahsrabuddhe said the SC decision is in sync with the changing realities of society. The apex court had, in 2011, first recognised passive euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug case.

The document should also specify the name of the guardian or close relative, who in the event of the person becoming incapable of taking a decision, will be authorised give consent to withdrawal of medical treatment.

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