SC Constitution Bench holds passive euthanasia, living wills permissible

Context:

  • In a historic decision, the Supreme Court on Friday declared passive euthanasia and the right of persons, including the terminally ill, to give advance directives to refuse medical treatment permissible.

More details of the Judgement:

  • A Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, in three concurring opinions, upheld that the fundamental right to life and dignity includes right to refuse treatment and die with dignity.
  • The fundamental right to a “meaningful existence” includes a person’s choice to die without suffering, it held.
  • The court said it was time to dispense with such shared suffering and sense of guilt and face the reality. Doctors who attended on the terminally ill were under pressure and dithered in letting the patient go, apprehending criminal liability and fear of being drawn into the “vortex” of a possible family struggle for inheritance.
  • A dignified death should follow a meaningful existence.
  • Though religion, morality, philosophy, law and society shared equally strong and conflicting opinions about whether right to life included right to death, they all agreed that a person should die with dignity.
  • An advance directive or living will from a patient to stop medical treatment at a particular stage — “particularly when he is brain dead or clinically dead or not revivable” — quelled apprehensions of future regret for relatives and criminal action against doctors.
  • The Chief Justice’s judgment includes specific guidelines to test the validity of a living will, by whom it should be certified, when and how it should come into effect, etc. The guidelines also cover a situation where there is no living will and how to approach a plea for passive euthanasia.
  • In a separate opinion, Justice Chandrachud observed that modern medical science should balance its quest to prolong life with need to provide patients quality of life. One was meaningless without the other, he said.
  • The issue of death and when to die transcended the boundaries of law, but the court had intervened because it also concerned the liberty and autonomy of the individual, he said.
  • Justice Chandrachud read from his judgment that the sanctity of life included the dignity and autonomy of the individual. He said the search for a meaningful existence, the pursuit of happiness included the exercise of free will.
  • A person need not give any reasons nor is he answerable to any authority on why he should write an advanced directive.
  • But the judge held that active euthanasia is unlawful.

Source:TH