India's top court upholds passive euthanasia, allows living wills in landmark judgment

Georgia Reed
March 11, 2018

The court said that in cases where there was no advance directive about terminally ill patients, the doctor treating the doctors treating the patient may inform the hospital which, in turn, shall constitute a medical board.

The bench observed that "dignity" was the core which united fundamental rights because fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution sought to achieve for each individual the dignity of existence. "However, it should be given effect to only after being fully satisfied that the executor is terminally ill and is undergoing prolonged treatment or is surviving on life support and that the illness of the executor is incurable or there is no hope of him/her being cured", the court said. Making an interesting analysis of how passive euthanasia is opposed in the country both morally and religiously, the judge voted in its favour citing human dignity and the cost benefit involved in opting for the same. Active euthanasia, by administering a lethal injection, continues to be illegal in India. This may include stopping the life support or the cease of life saving procedures that help to increase the life span of an individual with no permanent cure. While the medical fraternity is sharply divided over issues pertaining to medical ethics in the case of euthanasia, the legal part of it has its own limitations as India's Constitution recognises the right to life with dignity but does not recognise the right to die. Thus, this decision by the SC needs to be applauded.

The Press Trust of India news agency said that in each living will, a court-appointed medical panel will review the instructions before they can be carried out.

In India, passive euthanasia was termed legal under exceptional circumstances. Unable to bear the medical expenses of his son's treatment and having to see him suffer daily, Dennis Kumar's filed in a plea which was denied by the court in 2008. "There was no bedsore on her, which means she was not in a vegetative state". She was at the mercy of KEM administration who kept her alive by keep her feeding her through intravenous pipes and took care of her through proper medication for as long as 37 years knowing she will never be back to normal again.

Anamika Mishra: Suffering from Muscular Dystrophy disease and struggling with everyday life, Anamika Mishra's mother wrote to PMO seeking Euthanasia for her daughter. "We do not do anything to hasten death", she said.

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".

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What is the government view on passive euthanasia?

"The right of life is in the hands of God".

While the passage of the law involving passive euthanasia should be celebrated, what will be interesting to note is the implementation of the guidelines.

India's top court ruled on Friday that terminally ill patients have the right to refuse care, approving the use of "living wills" to set out how they want to be treated.

"First, because of rampant poverty where majority of the persons are not able to afford health services, should they be forced to spend on medical treatment beyond their means and in the process compelling them to sell their house property, household things and other assets which may be means of (their) livelihood".

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