India's Supreme Court rules to allow passive euthanasia

How sexual assault victim Aruna Shanbaug's case started the national debate on euthanasia

Individuals have a right to die with dignity, India's Supreme Court upheld on Friday in a landmark verdict that permits the removal of life-support systems for the terminally ill or those in incurable comas.

Talking to The Asian Age, Ms Lavate, who is a retired school principal said, "We wrote a letter to the President's office, so we are excepting a decision from that side and not the Supreme Court judgement". The judgment decreed that passive euthanasia is legal and valid across the country. The five-member court also ruled individuals have the right to specify their wishes in an advance medical directive, or a "living will", to be enacted in the event the individual enters into a vegetative state and loses the capacity to make decisions.

Euthanasia has multiple and complex legal, ethical, and emotional ramifications. Govt should come up with a policy: "Mr & Mrs Lavate, who had asked for euthanasia".

The verdict was delivered by a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, and Ashok Bhushanin. Thus, it is safe to say the battle is only half won for individuals seeking euthanasia and that only when things start to move smoothly on ground that it will mark a change in their lives. Every moment our bodies undergo change... life is not disconnected from death.

The judgment led to a flurry of reactions across India.

On January 15, 2016, the Centre had said the 241st report of the Law Commission stated that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards and there was also a proposed law -Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006. The person authorising passive euthanasia has to sign the document in the presence of two witnesses, preferably independent; it has to be countersigned by a Judicial Magistrate of First Class (JMFC), who shall preserve one copy in his office besides sending it to the registry of the district judge to retain it in digital format. If he (patient) has left a living will that he mustnt be kept on life support, it must be followed.

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The court said a doctor should give "due weight" to the instructions in the document.

Meena Ganesh, MD and CEO of Portea Medical, says, "Forcing someone to remain on life-support can be very hard and the increasing costs of stay and care compound the situation". "The said directive, we think, will dispel many a doubt at the relevant time of need during the course of treatment of the patient". Shanbaug was the face of the debate on euthanasia in India.

Aruna Shanbaug remained in vegetative state for 37 years after being strangled and sodomised by a sweeper. Meantime, a non-government organisation approached the top court with a plea to also legalise the right to a living will. However, the court issued a set of broad guidelines for legalising passive euthanasia in India.

She said, "I had requested for mercy killing in 2014 and PM Modi took cognizance of the same & had told local officers to look into the matter".

M - India's Supreme Court has allowed people to draw up "living wills", meaning they can seek what is known as passive euthanasia, BBC said.

The five-judge bench held that "right to die" peacefully is a part of fundamental right to life as enshrined under Article 21 of Constitution of India.

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