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Supreme Court allows passive euthanasia in its landmark decision

Supreme Court allows passive euthanasia in its landmark decision

Bhushan had filed a petition to the Supreme Court on behalf of a registered society, Common Cause, seeking recognition of the right to establish a living will.

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court on India Friday passed an order allowing passive euthanasia in the country. The doctor may not carry out the act directly, but will give the patient all the support and knowledge they need to die with dignity.

It 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.

On 25 February 2014, a three judge bench had referred the plea for voluntary passive euthanasia to the constitution bench.

According to Thelakkat, the Supreme Court may have laid down procedures to be followed for executing euthanasia but that it could be misused in a country like India.

The decision makes it legal for the terminally ill to decide against using life support systems to continue living, and frees the doctors and families of those who slip into incurable comas to halt such measures, in the patients' best interest.

The Supreme Court has also approved the right to refuse medical treatment and the concept of a "living will".

It remains unclear, however, how courts could guarantee that living wills were not drafted by patients under coercion.

Living will explain a situation whether or not a person wants to be kept on life support if he/she becomes terminally ill and will die shortly without life support, or fall into a persistent vegetative state. With all due respect, the Supreme Court can not just make a judgment regarding euthanasia.

In 2011, India's top court had ruled that life support could be removed for terminally ill patients in exceptional circumstances.

The fundamental right to a "meaningful existence" includes a person's choice to die without suffering, it held.

But this can be done only after permission from all family members and a medical board created to look into the case is received.

In active euthanasia, a person or medical professionals directly and deliberately do something for the death of the suffering patient.

The debate on euthanasia in India was triggered after the case of Aruna Shanbaug, a Mumbai nurse, who remained in a persistent vegetative state for almost 42 years following a sexual assault.

If the medical board refuses to allow withdrawal of medical treatment, it may be challenged by the executor or his family members before the concerned high court. It has also given sanction to 'Passive Euthanasia' and 'Living Will' and thereby issued guidelines in this regard.