February 19, 2018

Supreme Court may let family switch off life support

12 October 2017, 01:02 | Lena Norman

A view of Supreme Court in New Delhi India

A view of Supreme Court in New Delhi India

The CJI pointed out that a certificate from a statutory medical board that a patient's condition was beyond cure and irreversible would take care of apprehensions of relatives and doctors about withdrawing life support and when it should be done.

The Supreme Court said it will lay down guidelines for drafting living wills and how it can be authenticated. In the latter's case, the Supreme Court, in a landmark verdict in 2011, ruled out any support for active euthanasia, but laid down a broad legal framework for passive euthanasia, or the withdrawal of life support subject to safeguards and a fair procedure.

A living will or Advance Medical Directive is a directive given by a person on whether or not he/she shall be given medical treatment in future when he/she becomes terminally ill.

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. "The individual's will, his right will be thwarted in such a case", Justice DY Chandrachud observed during the hearing, suggesting that the court would protect the person's "decisional autonomy" when he was declared as beyond medical help.

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.

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The Central government has told the top court that passive euthanasia was the law of the land with safeguards by virtue of an earlier judgement of the top court 2014 in Aruna Shanbaug case.

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. The matter to be decided was whether the law should allow it (euthanasia). When the patient decides to end life and is assisted by a doctor, it is assisted suicide. Such living wills may be misused, said additional solicitor general PS Narasimha. Euthanasia on the other hand is when the call is taken by the patient's family and friends.

After the Centre said it had drafted a "management of patients with terminal illness, withdrawal of medical life support bill", the Constitution bench which is examining the issue advised the Centre to constitute a permanent medical board to decide medical cases of passive euthanasia.

"Every competent patient including a minor above the age of 16 years, who is terminally ill, has the right to take a decision and express the desire to the medical practitioner attending him/her", reads the draft Bill. If the patient is above 16 years of age, then consent with regard to such a decision has to also be obtained from their parents or major spouse.

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