Supreme Court reserves verdict on 'living will' issue


Living will is a written document that allows a patient to give 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. The Centre, which concurred with the top court's observation, then submitted that it was ready with a draft Bill to permit passive euthanasia under strict regulation and guidelines. Active euthanasia is when a step such as administering a drug is taken to end a person's life, while passive euthanasia is when the person is allowed to die by withholding treatment.

A living will is made by a person in his normal state of mind that is to be executed if in the event of terminal illness he reached an irreversible vegetative state.

Justice Chandrachud also pointed out that a living will is "not postulated on the right to die but on the right to live, as the person is actually saying he wants to live only till he can without outside support".

The Supreme Court on Wednesday indicated that it might allow execution of "living will" in cases of passive euthanasia with safeguards like approval by the medical board and where the patient is comatose and their condition is irreversible.

Narasimha further said that the the Centre had already accepted the court's Aruna Shanbaug ruling where a specific category of relatives were allowed to move the high court to seek permission for passive euthanasia, reported The Times of India.

The central government told the court that it had proposed to set up medical boards at district and state level to decide individual cases of passive euthanasia.

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The long-debated concept of euthanasia and living will, which is not allowed in India yet, is now being deliberated by a five-bench Constitution Bench based on a petition filed by activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, for the NGO Common Cause. Should the law allow "living wills"?

The court was hearing a petition seeking that the right to die with dignity should be declared a fundamental right. The court said it will lay down guidelines for drafting living wills and how it can be authenticated.

The present case has sought the enactment of a law along the lines of the Patient Autonomy and Self-determination Act of the United States of America, which allow the practice of a living will, according to LiveLaw. Shanbaug died six years later, in May 2015.

A certificate from a statutory medical board that a patient's condition is beyond cure and irreversible would take care of the fear of relatives and doctors about withdrawing life support, Justice Sikri said.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are acceptable in 10 nations across the world, including US, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium, according to NDTV. If the board says that she could be revived from an apparent hopeless medical condition, the living will would not be taken into account, it added.