Supreme Court reserves verdict on 'living will' issue

12 October, 2017, 17:02 | Author: Eloise Marshall
  • A view of Supreme Court in New Delhi India

Following the petition, in March 2011, the Supreme Court in its judgement laid down guidelines to process "Passive Euthanasia" in case of incompetent persons.

On January, 15, 2016, the Centre had said the 241st report of the Law Commission stated that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards and there was also a proposed law -Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006.

The Bill excludes active euthanasia.

Refusing to entertain any doubts on the 2011 judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case permitting a high court-supervised procedure for passive euthanasia, the bench, also comprising A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, said: "We can not take a regressive step".

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that a living will may relieve grief-stricken relatives the moral burden of deciding whether life support should be withdrawn from a terminally-ill person. It asked additional solicitor general P S Narasimha to inform the court within a week the medical experts from different fields who, in the Centre's view, should be included in the statutory medical board.

The day began with the Centre's submissions on living will. ASG PS Narasimha advocated that a balanced approach must be considered for deciding such cases while expressing his concerns about misuse of a living will.

The CJI told the counsel that a person's advance directive (living will) to withdraw medical care to allow him to die with dignity should take effect only when a medical board affirms that his condition is beyond cure and irreversible. Should the law allow "living wills"?

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.

However, it was emphasised that the living will could only be executed after the opinion of the medical board certifying the condition of the patient.

It also said if a medical board certifies that the health of the patient is irreversible and can not be kept alive without artificial support, then the living will's role may come in.

Yesterday, the government had opposed granting legal validity to "living will" in cases of passive euthanasia, by telling the Supreme Court that it could be misused and may not be viable as a good public policy. Shanbaug died six years later, in May 2015.

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

However the bill does recognise the difference between a competent and an incompetent patient and states that if a person above 16 years of age understands the consequences of their decision and makes an informed call about the denial of medical treatment, then such a decision would be binding on the doctor.

Passive euthanasia is a condition where there is withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.

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

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