SC allows passive euthanasia with guidelines, here's all you need to know

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India's Supreme Court Friday legalised passive euthanasia in a landmark judgment that places the power of choice to live in the hands of an individual.

A five judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court, headed by CJI Dipak Misra, said passive euthanasia is permissible since a person can not be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she doesn't wish to live.

The important observation came in a landmark verdict of a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, which recognised the right of a terminally-ill patient to execute a "living will" to refuse medical treatment for dying with dignity. The top court thus turned down Pinki Virani's plea on March 7, 2011, but it allowed "passive euthanasia" of withdrawing life support to patients who are in permanently vegetative state (PVS).

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Passive euthanasia is stopping all kinds of medical treatment to hasten the death of a terminally ill person in order to relieve them of their suffering.

Petitioners contention: The primary basis of the petition is that how can a person be told that he/she does not have right to prevent torture on his body? However, the government is yet to pass a law regarding this.

Although the Centre had opposed recognition of "living will" debating the knowledge and awareness of a given patient of possible future medical advancements, it cited a previous law that would allow passive euthanasia with certain safeguards, namely the Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006. At the time, it permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision. "Passive euthanasia can be granted when the patient is declared brain dead and no chance of revival exists".

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The apex court had ruled that such a request would have to be vetted by a medical board on the basis of which the concerned high court would decide whether to permit withdrawal of life support system or not. In several cases, the reluctance to pull the plug on a loved one even when s/he is in a vegetative state prolongs the pain of the patient.

In fact, there is a provision where advance directives (ADs) can be prepared by a person while still in possession of decisional capacity about how treatment decisions should be made on her or his behalf in the event she or he loses the capacity to make such decisions.

The SC judgement today says of passive euthanasia, 'It does not cause death since by itself, it does not sustain life'.

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