Patient's choice: Living will elevates passive euthanasia

11 March, 2018, 01:59 | Author: Marjorie Miles
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In a landmark verdict, India's Supreme Court has ruled individuals have a right to die with dignity, allowing passive euthanasia.

Atthe end, on March9th2018 Supreme Court legalized that if there is a "living" will made by terminally ill patients for passive euthanasia it can be executed following certain strict guidelines adopted to that effect.

The top court, in its last year's verdict, said there was no justification to keep the enforcement of Lokpal Act suspended till the proposed amendments, including on the issue of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, were cleared by the Parliament.

"Life sans dignity is an unacceptable defeat and life that meets death with dignity is a value to be aspired for and a moment for celebration", the five-judge bench, headed by India's chief justice, said in its order.

In Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab Case, the Supreme Court deliberately stated that right to life does not imply a right to death on a person. "Second, when there are limited medical facilities available, should a major part thereof be consumed on those patients who have no chances of recovery?"

A passive euthanasia legislation that does not incorporate living wills is half baked, to put it mildly.

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"First, because of rampant poverty where majority of the persons are not able to afford health services, should they be forced to spend on medical treatment beyond their means and in the process compelling them to sell their house property, household things and other assets which may be means of (their) livelihood". It defined "living will" as a document in written form by which a patient can express his/her intention regarding the medical treatment to be advanced in case ofterminallyillnessor no longer in a condition to express informed consent.

The petitioner, NGO "Common Cause", had approached the court seeking a direction for recognition of "living will".

A competent committee would comprise doctors, lawyers, social activists and the local administration of the hospital, Trehan said. The person concerned can authorise any relative or friend to decide in consultation with medical experts when to take the extreme step, through a will. Making an interesting analysis of how passive euthanasia is opposed in the country both morally and religiously, the judge voted in its favour citing human dignity and the cost benefit involved in opting for the same. The couple is still hoping that the President may grant their wish for active euthanasia, wherein a person is killed with an overdose of pain-killers.

Passive euthanasia involves withholding or discontinuing treatment for a terminally ill person where as active euthanasia involves injecting a lethal dose to a terminally ill person. The court says in such instances adopt the same safeguards as applied in cases where the directive is available. Medical ethics demand doctors educate patients and relatives about the implications and effectiveness of life support systems like ventilators, but commercial imperatives of hospitals triumph all too often.

The 2015 death of 66-year-old nurse Aruna Shanbaug, who was raped and left in a vegetative state for 42 years, reignited India's national debate over euthanasia.


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