Individuals have a right to die with dignity, India’s Supreme Court said on Friday in a landmark verdict that permits the removal of life-support systems for the terminally ill or those in incurable comas.
Passive euthanasia, as it is called, will apply only to a terminally ill person with no hope of recovery, a panel of five judges said. Active euthanasia, by administering a lethal injection, continues to be illegal in India.
When the sanctity of life was destroyed, said a panel of five judges headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, ‘Should we not allow them to cross the door and meet death with dignity? For some, even their death could be a moment of celebration.’
The court also permitted individuals to decide against artificial life support, should the need arise, by creating a ‘living will’.
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.
A national debate over the legalisation of euthanasia was sparked off by the death in 2015 of a 66-year-old nurse, Aruna Shanbaug, who had survived in a coma for more than 40 years after she was sexually assaulted.
‘This is an important, historic decision, which clears the air,’ said supreme court lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
‘Everybody will breathe a sigh of relief, because people were earlier apprehensive that if they withdrew life support, they could be prosecuted for culpable homicide,’ he added.
Bhushan had filed a petition to the Supreme Court on behalf of a non-government body, Common Cause, seeking recognition of the right to establish a living will.
‘The court has held that an individual has a full right to decide that he should not take any kind of medical treatment or that he should not be kept alive by artificial life support systems,’ he added.
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