In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court has allowed people to die with dignity by refusing or seeking the removal of life support systems if a patient cannot recover from a terminal illness or incurable coma. The judgement stems from a petition which was filed by the NGO Common Cause. They approached the court with the intention of getting direction for the recognition of the ‘living will.’
A condition where doctors can withdraw of medical treatment of a terminally-ill patient. This involves a situation where doctors stop supplying patients with life support machines, surgical treatments, feeding tubes and life extending drugs.
It is different from active euthanasia that includes administering a lethal injection rather than withdrawing life support. Active euthanasia is still illegal in the country.
India has been debating passive euthanasia since journalist Pinki Virani filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2009 on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug. A nurse in KEM hospital in Mumbai, Aruna was sexually assaulted by a ward boy in November 1973 and spent the next 42 years in a vegetative state. Although passive euthanasia was recognised by the Supreme Court, her plea rejected by the court in March 2011 and after years of suffering, Aruna died from pneumonia in May, 2015.
This verdict has offered guidelines for passive euthanasia and recognised advanced medical directive, or living will.
It’s a written document by which a patient gives an advanced directive about his medical treatment, in case they’re unable to communicate their decisions when they become terminally ill. This legal document allows you to let the doctors know your wishes if you’re incapacitated to express them yourself, of whether or not you want to artificially prolong your life.
Anyone over the age of 16 (with no speech or brain impairment) can make a living will. However, the document has no power after the patient dies.
It is recognised by many countries around the globe. The Netherlands, Belgium, Taiwan, South Korea, Canada, Singapore, Luxembourg, Australia, US, UK, Switzerland, Colombia, Germany and Italy are in favour of passive euthanasia.
There will be guidelines if passive euthanasia is permitted, but the right to die with dignity will allow people to escape years of pain and agony. It's a big step for our country.