In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of India ruled that it will allow passive euthanasia, and the right to die with dignity is a fundamental right. It added that it would also allow living will for passive euthanasia.
The court has issued detailed guidelines in this regard.
Living will is a document in a writing that allows a patient to give instructions in advance about the medical treatment they would like administered when they are terminally ill or can no longer express consent with regard to the treatment received.
Passive euthanasia is a condition where there is withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.
‘Common Cause’ an NGO had approached the apex court seeking direction on what constitutes ‘living will’, and contended that when a medical expert said that a patient had reached a point of no return with regard to their illness, then they should be given the right to refuse being put on a life-support system.
The NGO was represented by Prashant Bhushan in the top court.
"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 said.
The five-member bench, comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, began hearing the petition a year ago.
The Supreme Court had in 2011 recognised passive euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug's case by which it had permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision. But it was later overturned.
On November 27, 1973, Aruna Shanbaug, a junior nurse at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai was sodomised and brutally assaulted by a janitor working in the same hospital. The janitor choked Aruna with a dog chain as he carried out the sexual assault.
Aruna’s brain was severely injured in the attack, leaving her in a partially conscious and permanently vegetative state. Forty-two years later, Aruna died on May 18, 2015.