Supreme Court reserves verdict on 'living will' issue
Supreme Court reserves verdict on 'living will' issue
A view of Supreme Court in New Delhi India
12 October, 2017, 00:59
After senior advocates Arvind Datar and Sanjay Hegde placed various facets and aspects linking passive euthanasia to living will, advocate Devansh Mohta placed a draft pro forma of a living will or advance directive by a person specifying the medical conditions when s/he should not be provided further artificial life support assistance.
The Centre then told the Bench, also comprising Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, and Ashok Bhushan, that it did not support the concept of a "living will" as the "social consequences" would be negative for the country.
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".
While reserving its verdict, the court has indicated that it may lay down comprehensive guidelines on operationalising the idea of living wills. Especially among the lower middle class, where the elderly are thought of as a burden and hence are subjected to great cruelty.
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Debating the question of law, the Chief Justice then observed that one can not say that you have a right to die (suicide), but you have a right to dignified death. Judicial wisdom is acceptable in pointing the way, but it's up to the Law Commission and the legislatures to ensure proper laws exist whose letter and spirit can't be misused by, say, greedy relatives in ending the lives of sick rich people so that inheritances may be enjoyed sooner. The matter to be decided was whether the law should allow it (euthanasia). "But we recognise that every individual has a right to die with dignity, i.e. the process of end of life must be dignified". Chief Justice Misra said. The judges' sympathy for elders, who may additionally suffer from the greed of relatives, and the value of a human being's life should be upheld even in a "passive euthanasia" situation.
The Court observed that it is essential to determine whether the guidelines postulated in Aruna Shanbaug case is adequate or not. In 2009, author Pinki Virani (who wrote a book on her) filed a petition to allow her to be euthanised.
The top court declined the plea for Shanbaug's mercy-killing but approved the concept of passive euthanasia under exceptional circumstances. This was to resolve the inconsistencies between the Aruna Shanbaug case (which allowed passive euthanasia under certain safeguards), and the Gian Kaur case (which held that the right to life does not include the right to die). In the absence of a law authorizing doctors to do so, they keep incurable patients on life support, he said.
Assisted suicide is when a patient with a competent mind decides to end his or her life with the assistance of a doctor. "This decision is taken by the medical board on the touchstone of modern technology", he observed.
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