In a monumental decision, the Supreme Court on Friday passed an order allowing passive euthanasia in the country. The SC, however, made it mandatory to set strict guidelines that will govern when it is permitted. A five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, also recognised a living will made by terminally ill patients likely to go into a permanent vegetative state. The Bench laid down guidelines for adoption of a living will, including who would execute it and how a nod for passive euthanasia would be granted by the medical board. Defining a living will, lawyer and civil rights activist Prashant Bhushan, who filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court in 2005 demanding the concept of a living will to be incorporated as law, explains it as a document through which one can express their decision to be not put on artificial life support systems in a situation when there is no hope of recovery and life would just be prolonged by such systems.
Commenting on the judgment, he said: “It is a good judgment. It is a good beginning, one can say. In my view, not many safeguards are required. It is difficult to misuse this as it would first require a conspiracy to make the person unconscious. The entire act of withdrawing life support is not likely to be misused.” He added, “Sometimes relatives also come under this so-called moral pressure that we (relatives) must keep them alive as long as we can, even though doctors believe that the patient’s situation is hopeless. They have this sense of guilt that if ‘we withdraw the life support, people will say we wanted to save money or time’. A living will relieves them from any such guilt or responsibility. It will also relieve people of being compelled to unnecessarily put people on life support where such treatment will no longer help them or will only prolong their suffering. In that sense, it is going to help the cause of palliative care.”
Randeep Guleria, director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, speaking at an Idea Exchange programme of The Indian Express before the ruling of the apex court, had said he believes such a ruling will strengthen the position of doctors in situations where a patient is terminally ill. “People say that a living will can get exploited, especially in cases where a large amount of property is involved, etc. But if the individual has already issued a living will, stating that this is what he or she wants, it just strengthens the position of doctors,” Guleria had said.