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Dying with dignity

Author: admin

The Supreme Court has spoken. In a 538-page verdict, a five-judge bench proclaimed that “the right to die with dignity is part of the right to life”, which is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution—this gives legal sanction to passive euthanasia through an ‘advance medical directive’ or ‘living will’. In a living will, an ailing adult of sound mind can express the desire in writing to refuse life-prolonging measures if there is no chance of recovery and choose to embrace death naturally. Passive euthanasia is defined as denying medical treatment to a person who cannot be cured.

“The right to privacy protects autonomy in making decisions related to the intimate domain of death as well as bodily integrity,” goes the judgement. “Recognition of the right to accept or refuse medical treatment is founded upon autonomy.” The Court also laid down procedural guidelines to execute a living will and spelt out safeguards to prevent misuse of the provision. For instance, the advance directive would have to be made before a magistrate, who would determine whether the person is of sound mind, and two independent witnesses need to be present at the time of execution of the living will. Further, it will take effect after a statutory medical board confirms that the condition is incurable and irreversible.

The bench, led by CJI Dipak Misra, including Justices A K Sikri, A M Kanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, was ruling under a petition filed by NGO Common Cause in 2005, which argued that ‘right to die’ was part of ‘right to life’.

Photo: iStock
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
April 2018