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Euthanasia and beyond: on the Supreme Court's verdict

10 March 2018

The top Court also allowed an individual to draft a "living will" specifying that they not be put on life support if they slip into an incurable coma in the future. "They seek a right to choose specific types of treatment, able to retain control throughout the entire span of their lives and to exercise autonomy in all medical decisions concerning their welfare and treatment", he said.

The term "passive euthanasia" is defined as the withdrawal of medical treatment with deliberate intention to hasten a terminally ill patient's death.

In the event of the executor becoming terminally ill with no hope of recovery, the physician treating the patient after informing the executor/his guardian about the nature of illness and consequences of alternative forms of treatment will set up a hospital medical board.

The NGO was represented by Prashant Bhushan in the top court.

The bench also laid down guidelines as to who could execute the will and how the nod for passive euthanasia could be granted by the medical board.

The fundamental right to a "meaningful existence" includes a person's choice to die without suffering, it held.

"A awful, painful death on a rational but incapacitated terminally ill patient are an affront to human dignity". "It should mention that the executor may revoke the instructions/authority at any time".

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Hence, the court, Justice Sikri said, is rightly in favour of the right to die with dignity.

She added, "Even though we do not have any terminal illness, the fact remains that we have lead a good and satisfactory life and we thoroughly believe that there is nothing more we wish to do".

There have been several instances of people approaching the court or the government seeking euthanasia for their near and dear ones including a man from Agra seeking death for six of his children diagnosed with a rare disease. One is meaningless without the other, Justice Chandrachud observed. Every moment our bodies undergo change... life is not disconnected from death.

Failure to legally recognise the advance medical directives may amount to non-facilitation of the right to smoothen the dying process and the dignity in that process, said SC.

The court has issued detailed guidelines in this regard.

Right of execution of an advance medical directive by an individual does not depend on any recognition or legislation by a State and we are of the considered opinion that such rights can be exercised by an individual in recognition and in affirmation of his right of bodily integrity and selfdetermination.

A person need not give any reasons nor is he answerable to any authority on why he should write an advanced directive. The court had said, "Active euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill a person, e.g. a lethal injection..."

Euthanasia and beyond: on the Supreme Court's verdict