Hence it was inevitable that the Supreme Court judges, as they made their pronouncements on legalising passive euthanasia, should draw inspiration from some of the immortal words articulated on the topic down the ages. The Chief Justice led his colleagues on the bench to harmonise the opposite facts "life and death" and say in unison that "right to die with dignity is an intrinsic facet of right to life guaranteed under Article 21". A living will is made by a person in his normal state of mind that is to be executed in the event of a terminal illness if he reaches an irreversible vegetative state.
Further the guidelines of the Supreme Court will remain in force till a law is enacted by Parliament. People now will be allowed to grant a living power of attorney to another.
The government had opposed the concept of Living Will on the grounds that people opting for it may not be aware of future medical advancements. It also laid down the difference between active and passive euthanasia observing that in active euthanasia something is done to end the patient's life while in passive euthanasia, something is not done that would have preserved the patient's life.
"I am deeply grateful to the Supreme Court of India for the landmark judgment", said Ms Virani, adding that she had approached the apex court on the same issue and had a tough time fighting for this cause.
The Supreme Court also laid down guidelines on who would execute the will and how nod for passive euthanasia would be granted by the medical board.
The term "passive euthanasia" is defined as the withdrawal of life support, treatment or nutrition with the deliberate intention to hasten a terminally ill-patient's death.
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According to the Supreme Court rules, it can be executed only by an adult who is of a sound and healthy state of mind and in a position to communicate, relate and comprehend the goal and consequences of executing the document. In cases where the matter come up before the High Court, the Magistrate will intimate withdrawal of life support and the said order shall be preserved in court records for three years after the patient's death.
Many public hospitals discuss realistic outcomes to help families choose whether they want to provide life-support to terminally ill patients with no hope of surviving.
The judges, who wrote four separate judgments expressing their views, were unanimous on allowing passive euthanasia and advance directives.
It enshrines the right to refuse care, although under strictly controlled conditions.
The 241st report of the Law Commission states that passive euthanasia should be allowed with certain safeguards and there is a proposed law-Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patient (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006 in this regard. On the other hand, active euthanasia - which is still not allowed in India and in most parts of the world - is the act of injecting lethal substances into patients in vegetative state.
"It is a landmark decision in a resource-constraint country and would save a lot of salvageable patients by giving them opportunity to avail ventilator support", Dr Chatterjee, who is also joint editor of Indian Academy Geriatrics, said. "Just as every person has the right to life, s/he also has the right to die with dignity", noted doctor and Padma Shri receipient Dr K K Aggarwal, who is also president of the Heart Care Foundation.