In a historical judgement on 9th March 2018, Supreme Court of India decided to grant the right to die with dignity by legalising Passive Euthanasia and Living Will. Active Euthanasia, however, remains illegal in the country. A five-judge Constitution bench, comprising CJI Dipak Misra was responsible for turning this debatable issue into a landmark judgement, thereby putting a break on the controversy once and for all.
What is Passive Euthanasia?
A large number of Indians remember the hot topic of euthanasia or the will to die through the 2010 Bollywood flick Guzarish, starring Hrithik Roshan. The film was a pioneer in starting a debate on the topic. Does a terminally ill patient deserve to be on the ventilator even if the possibility of his betterment is blurred? Or should his suffering need to be terminated by his close ones in order to provide him with some amount of relief?
Simply put, passive euthanasia is a condition where all medical treatment (ventilator, oxygen masks and others) are permanently removed in order to hasten the death of the patient. A large fraction of medical experts and general public consider it an impactful way to put an end to the misery of the patient crawling towards death. In contrast to it stands active euthanasia, which is an intentional act of causing the death of a patient in great suffering.
What is Living Will?
The apex court’s judgement lays emphasis on the concept of a Living Will. It is a document that a person writes when his situation has not deteriorated beyond control and asks for passive euthanasia if and when he reaches a state of medical illness so severe that all scope for betterment has completely vanished. It is therefore through this will that passive euthanasia has been sanctioned.
A person can state in the will whether he wishes or not to prolong his life artificially in the case of a life-threatening injury or illness. In light of the decision, India has joined the league of nations such as the UK, the US, Germany and the Netherlands which allow the concept of living will and right to die peacefully.
The Indian background
Passive euthanasia was first brought to the fore in India in the Aruna Shanbaug case. She was a nurse who remained in a persistent vegetative state for 42 long years, following a severe sexual assault in Mumbai. In light of this case, Supreme Court legalised passive euthanasia by means of the withdrawal of life support to patients. The case, therefore, remains of utmost importance whenever there is a discussion on passive euthanasia in the country.
It is important to note that in 2011, Passive Euthanasia was made legal but was granted only under special, exceptional circumstances.
But in light of the recent order, the Court has confirmed the right to die with dignity. Right to die peacefully is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution as the right to live now includes a right to die. The verdict will definitely go a long way in altering the fate of terminally ill patients and is a landmark judgement in the history of the Indian Judiciary and medical arena.