In a historic decision, the Supreme Court allowed ‘Passive Euthanasia’ citing that humans have “right to die with dignity”. A five-judge constitution board headed by CJI Dipak Misra recognized that a terminally ill patient can write a ‘living will’ which permits the doctor to withdraw life support and further treatment.
The apex court laid down directions and guidelines and said that these shall remain in force till legislation is brought on the same.
The Chief Justice of India, while reading out the landmark judgment said that there were four different opinions of the bench of five members, but everyone was unanimous that ‘living will’ should be permitted because a person cannot be allowed to continue suffer in a coma state when he/she doesn’t wish to live.
This historic yet sensitive ruling stems from a petition filed by an NGO ‘Common Cause’ which had approached judiciary to seek recognition of ‘living will’. The petition further contended that if a medical expert testify that the revival of the patient is impossible, then he/she should be given the right to refuse being put on life support or ventilator.
“How can a person be told that he/she does not have right to prevent torture on his body? Right to life includes right to die with dignity. A person cannot be forced to live on support of ventilator. Keeping a patient alive by artificial means against his/her wishes is an assault on his/her body,” the petition read.
This ruling also takes us back to the case of Aruna Shanbaug, who lay like a vegetable in the state of coma for 42 years. She was a nurse at the KEM Hospital where a ward boy had sexually assaulted her on November 27, 1973 while she was changing her clothes after work. He tied her with a dog chain around her neck while he assaulted her. The chain cut off oxygen supply to her brain for more than 8 hours and she was found in a pool of blood next morning. Aruna Shanbaug had suffered cervical cord injury and brain stem and she went into coma for 4 long decades in the same hospital.
Her friend and activist, Pinki Virani sought passive euthanasia for Ms Shanbaug and filed a petition in 2009. But it was turned down after nurses caring for Aruna refused to let her die. Ms Shanbaug’s colleagues and nurses fed her, cleaned her and looked after her so well that she developed not a single bed sore in 4 decades.
She lost the battle of life in May 2015, but with the legalization of Passive Euthanasia, she lives on!
Let us also tell you, there are two types of euthanasia – active and passive. In passive euthanasia, medical treatment is deliberately withdrawn to hasten the death of the terminally-ill patient whereas in active euthanasia, the patient is given a lethal substance to end life.
With passive euthanasia, a doctor is basically not killing someone but just refusing to save them (whose revival is impossible). The Supreme Court has ordered that ‘living will’ will be permitted for the person seeking this. This will also require permission from the family members and approval from medical experts that the patient can’t be revived.
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