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Ramesh Shankar
Wednesday, March 14, 2018, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

In a landmark judgment on one of the most controversial and emotional issues, the Supreme Court has given legal sanction to passive euthanasia and execution of a 'living will' of persons suffering from chronic and terminal diseases and likely to go into a permanent vegetative state. Upholding a citizen's right to die with dignity, the apex court has allowed a person to draft a living will specifying that he or she should not be put on life support system if they slip into a situation of incurable coma in future, and thereby recognizing a patient's right to deny remaining alive on ventilator or an artificial medical support system. Living will may prove as an important document which a person, with deteriorating health or terminally ill, can execute in advance. By living will, such a person can choose not to remain in a vegetation state with a life support system. If that person comes into that state, and when it will be not possible for him to express his wishes in spoken words, the document of living will would then be presented to hospital authorities for appropriate action. In the unanimous judgment by a five-member constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, the court accorded primacy to the constitutional values of liberty, dignity, autonomy and privacy as it laid down procedural guidelines governing the advance directive of a living will.  These guidelines will remain in force till a legislation is enacted by Parliament. By allowing euthanasia and, at the same time, spelling out strict guidelines on how it is permissible, the Supreme Court has walked the proverbial extra mile in recognizing the exact interpretation of 'right to live with human dignity' mentioned in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Warts-and-all, the Supreme Court's historic judgment on passive euthanasia is a welcome one because just as the human beings have the right to life, they also have the right to die with dignity. But, there are fears of misuse of the judgment, particularly by the relatives of an elderly patient for usurping his or her properties. Suppose a person meets with an accident or is bedridden, there will be people trying to usurp his or her property. An advance directive can be forged in connivance with hospital authorities. In a country notorious for property disputes, such fears are not out of place. The way things work in the country, it can be misused. To address the issue, strict guidelines have been laid down by the court clearly mentioning that living will shall be executed giving respect to the opinion expressed by the patient and collective decision shall be taken by the relatives of the patient along with medical professional.   In the 538-page ruling, the court held that such advance directive must be in writing and indicate in clear terms the decision relating to circumstances in which withholding or withdrawal of medical treatment could be resorted to. The document would bear signatures of the executor in the presence of two attesting witnesses, and the jurisdictional judicial magistrate of first class. But still, the fact remains that the safeguards mandated by the court cannot entirely prevent misuse of guidelines on passive euthanasia. The Supreme Court has done its bit, now it is over to the government to come out with a law to prevent all possible forms of misuse, including forgery, coercion and threats.


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pradeep Awasthi Mar 17, 2018 10:40 AM
The final verdict laid by Supreme Court in favour of patients suffering from terminal and chronic illness,which is termed as euthanasia has kept the dignity of patients right who can die with its own decision by executing a living will in consideration with hospital authorities.A living will is an authentified document,which acknowledges patients decision for not requring medical support and to willingly die with his right of dignity.
Its not a matter of surprise for country like India,where rules are more violated,since their amendment,the current decision of supreme Court favouring passive euthanasia carries more limitation,where misuse of living will for conspiracy of property rights is more oftenly witnessed.Therefore for avoiding any abuse of living will,it should be legitimise in front of judicial magistrate and two eye witness and undersigned by executor.
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