Landmark judgement: Supreme Court says passive euthanasia is permissible


New Delhi: In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court on Friday gave legal sanction to passive euthanasia, permitting a person to draft a living will clarifying that he should not be given life support treatment if he slips into coma.
A five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, said that the guidelines will be in force till legislation is passed by Parliament to deal with the issue.

The five judges had written four separate judgments expressing their views, but concurred on allowing passive euthanasia and advance directive. The bench also comprised justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan. The CJI’s judgment said the heart of the matter is whether law permits the acceleration of death without suffering.

Passive euthanasia, defined by the SC in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India & Ors (March 7, 2011), entails withholding of medical treatment for continuance of life, e.g. withholding of antibiotics where without giving it a patient is likely to die.”

An Advance Directive (Living Will) allows people to decide in advance whether or not they want to be put on life support in cases of terminal illness.

The bench laid down guidelines for those cases when there is no advanced directive. It said in cases when there is no immediate family members, the ‘next of friend’ can approach the concerned HC, which in turn will then set up a medical board to determine whether the concerned patient can be allowed passive euthanasia.

The top court had, in 2011, recognised passive euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug case. At the time, it permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision.

The Centre had opposed recognition of ‘living will’ – and said the consent for removal of artificial support system given by a patient may not be an informed one, and without being aware of medical advancements.

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