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RIGHT TO DIE WITH DIGNITY
Hearing a Common Cause writ petition, a five-judge Constitution bench felt prolonging a patient's life by putting him on ventilator or life support system against his will could amount to torture of the patient and be financially draining for his family, according to media reports. After nearly eighteen months, the matter came up before a Constitutional Bench on January 15, 2016.
The five-judge Constitutional bench of Justices A R Dave, Kurian Joseph, S K Singh, A K Goel and R F Nariman asked the Centre to clarify its position on ‘living wills’ before the next date of hearing on February 12, 2016.
In 2005, Common Cause had approached the Supreme Court praying for a declaration that the ‘fundamental right to live with dignity’ under Article 21 of the Constitution is inclusive of the ‘right to die with dignity’ and directions for adoption of suitable procedure for executing ‘Living Wills’. ‘Living Wills’ are testaments in the nature of an advance directive executed in full consciousness to refuse being put on artificial life-support in case of terminal illness and permanent vegetative state. A news report in the Times of India said that the Apex has brought alive the dormant debate over the complex and emotive passive euthanasia issue.
In February 2014, the Supreme Court, noticing inconsistency in precedents over ‘euthanasia’, recommended a careful deliberation on the validity of euthanasia and referred the matter to a Constitution Bench. The matter was subsequently taken up in July and notice was issued to states and union territories, the report said.
It added that the Additional solicitor general P S Patwalia agreed with the bench on rampant commercial exploitation of emotive moments by hospitals and said, "Ventilators are a lucrative business now."
The bench sought the Centre's response on the plea for legalizing 'Living Will', in which a person when in sound mind and good health records his wish that he should not be kept alive with the help of ventilators if doctors at any stage of his life opine that he cannot be kept alive without life support system, the TOI report said
Patwalia said the Centre was examining Law Commission's 196th and 241st reports recommending legalizing passive euthanasia, which is somewhat similar to the concept of 'Living Will' brought before the court by NGO 'Common Cause,' the newspaper reproted
Appearing for Common Cause, advocate Prashant Bhushan said there were many terminally ill patients who did not want to be kept alive through life support system but continued to suffer the pains of being kept alive because of the absence of legal sanctity to 'Living Will'.
The newspaper quoted the ASG as having said that Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002, provided that a team of doctors could decide withdrawal of life support system from terminally ill patients after they were declared brain dead.