Health experts, legal fraternity welcome euthanasia verdict; Catholic church unhappy

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In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has ruled that individuals have the right to die with dignity, and has allowed passive euthanasia with guidelines.

The CJI, while reading out the judgment, said that though there were four separate opinions of the bench but all the judges were unanimous that the "living will" should be permitted since a person can not be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she doesn't wish to live.

"The directive and guidelines shall remain in force till Parliament brings a legislation in the field", CJI Misra, writing the judgment for himself and Justice A M Khanwilkar, said.

"Life sans dignity is an unacceptable defeat and life that meets death with dignity is a value to be aspired for and a moment for celebration", the five-judge bench, headed by India's chief justice, said in its order. India with its historic judgment joined the likes of South Africa and Japan to allow Passive Euthanasia. The right to live should logically encompass the right to stop living - the right to eat does not prevent a man from doing something else in life apart from eating, or the right to sleep does not mean that he can only sleep in exercise of his right. "Second, when there are limited medical facilities available, should a major part thereof be consumed on those patients who have no chances of recovery?" Integrity and ethical conduct of the medical and legal professions need supplementary fortification, on matters beyond passive euthanasia as well. It is legal in handful of countries namely-Switzerland, Netherland, Canada, certain states in the USA. The doctors treating such a patient will withdraw medical support provided the patient has left behind a "living will" for pulling the "plug" in such situations.

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He said the reason the court was impelled to recognize passive euthanasia and advance directives is that both bear a close association to the human urge to "live with dignity". Like the privacy judgment, the right to die with dignity is a way for courts to support people living life on their own terms rather than being infantilised by government or exploited by commerce. "We must say thanks to her", she told PTI in Mumbai. "The safeguards that the court has built in should allay fears that some people may have", he said.

The verdict by the constitution bench came on a PIL filed by NGO Common Cause seeking recognition of "living will" made by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia. Our NGO wanted the concept of a living will which is an advanced directive when a patient, who is in control, prepares the will before he is terminally ill and chooses to not stay in a vegetative state. He further clarified that while active euthanasia is a crime, same is not the case with passive euthanasia as the element of good faith and objective assessment of the caregiver of the patient will protect doctors performing this task. A five-bench judge also defined the rule to implement the procedure in case there would be no living wills.

In the absence of a law authorizing doctors to invoke an advance directive, they keep incurable patients on life support, he said.