Aruna Shanbaug case laid foundation for Euthanasia verdict

Hannah Rogers
March 11, 2018

The Supreme Court March 9 said a person has the "right to die with dignity" and can make an advance "living will" authorizing the withdrawal of life support systems if in the view of medical professionals he or she has reached an irreversible stage of terminal illness. In passive euthanasia, the life support system of a terminally ill patient who is in a vegetative state is withdrawn.

The top court further added that its guidelines and directives shall remain in force till a legislation is brought to deal with the issue.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra observed that the failure to legally recognise advance medical directives may amount to "non-facilitation" of the right to smoothen the dying process and the dignity in that process was also a part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

"Today, the Supreme Court has delivered a historic judgment". 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.

Her plight prompted the Supreme Court to decide in 2011 that life support can be removed for some terminally ill patients in certain circumstances. Different counties have evolved different treatments of these factors when it comes to legality of passive euthanasia.

A competent committee would comprise doctors, lawyers, social activists and the local administration of the hospital, Trehan said.

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The order that stipulates guidelines to undergo passive euthanasia could be misused, Pakiam said. He was seen on the TV lauding the verdict as a "historical ruling" and said, "The whole world takes birth crying, but Mahavira taught us to die laughing". Choosing death, giving birth, abortion, making love, eating food, wearing clothes, and turning religious are extremely personal choices people make. A five-bench judge also defined the rule to implement the procedure in case there would be no living wills.

"Human beings have the right to die with dignity", said the apex court after allowing passive euthanasia.

Finally the Supreme Court took the initiative of hearing the matter on January 23rd 2014 by a three-judge bench led by then CJI P Sathasivam and the Delhi Medical Council supporting the task it was assigned tofileda copy of the proceedings of International Workshop for Policy Statement on Euthanasia in India, to which the Court reversed its previous verdict.

The verdict by the constitution bench came on a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause seeking recognition of "living will" made by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia.

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. A living will is a written document by way of which a patient can give his explicit instructions in advance about the medical treatment to be administered when he or she is terminally ill or no longer able to express informed consent. Friday's SC verdict allows every citizen to write a Living Will or advanced directive for his/her end-of-life care.

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