New Delhi: The Supreme Court said that a person can make an advance “living will” authorising the withdrawal of all life support system if in the opinion of doctor he has reached an irreversible stage of terminal illness.
While allowing a person to make a living will, a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, however, attached strict conditions for executing “a living will that was made by a person in his normal state of health and mind”. The bench laid down guidelines on who would execute the will and how nod for passive euthanasia would be granted by the medical board.
Recognising “right to die with dignity”, the court permitted a person to draft in advance a “living will” in case she/he slips into an incurable condition. The court said the life support can be removed only after the statutory medical board declares patient to be incurable.
The bench also comprising Justice A.K.Sikri, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan said that its guidelines and directives shall remain in force till a legislation is brought to deal with the issue.
Passive euthanasia, defined by the SC in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India & Ors (March 7, 2011), entails withholding of medical treatment for the continuance of life, e.g. withholding of antibiotics where without giving it a patient is likely to die.
A living will is a document prepared by a person in their healthy/sound state of mind under which they can specify in advance whether or not they would like to opt for artificial life support if he/she is in a vegetative state, due to an irreversible terminal illness, in the future or not.
The court’s ruling pronounced on a 2005 plea filed by Prashant Bhushan on behalf of NGO Common Cause, which sought recognition of a living will so that an individual could exercise the right to refuse medical treatment at a terminally ill stage of life.