Passive Euthanasia Bill Ready, but Supreme Court to Still Examine 'Living Will'

NGO Common Cause sought a law to permit passive euthanasia for terminally ill patients so that they are allowed to die by withdrawal of life support if the person has made a “living will” to that effect.

New Delhi: The Centre on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it was preparing a draft legislation to allow passive euthanasia for patients who are terminally ill with no chance of survival, said reports. The Centre, however, added that it was opposed to allowing people to make a ‘living will’ that they should not be put on life support in the case of a terminal illness, as it could be misused

Additional solicitor general P.S. Narasimha told a five-judge constitution bench that the Management of Patients With Terminal Illness – Withdrawal of Medical Life Support Bill had been drafted with recommendations of the Law Commission, the Indian Express reported.

Narasimha told the bench – comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Kanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan – that the 2009 judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case, allowing passive euthanasia, had become the law of the land and the “government has accepted it”, reported the Telegraph. He said that the draft Bill had been prepared following the court’s ruling in the Shanbaug case that passive euthanasia can be allowed in very very exceptional cases, and that high courts had been given the power to monitor all such cases referred to it by the duly constituted medical board of the state.

The submission had been made during a hearing on a PIL filed by the NGO Common Cause. The NGO sought a law to permit passive euthanasia for terminally ill patients so that they are allowed to die by withdrawal of life support if the person has made a ‘living will’ – which can be prepared by the person and signed by witnesses during the normal course of their life – to that effect.

Prashant Bhushan, counsel for Common Cause, said, “Right to life includes right to refuse medical intervention when a board of doctors certifies that the person would not live without life support system. I am in favour of active euthanasia too. But living will is a corollary to passive euthanasia,” reported the Times of India. For the Centre, Narasimha said the government still had to examine the pros and cons of a ‘living will’, which may not be a good policy as the issue was complex, given the cultural, religious and legal systems in India.

In passive euthanasia, artificial life support system can be removed with the consent of the patient’s family and the approval of a medical board. This practice takes place in several countries but not in India, Bhushan told the court.

“The committee considered the draft Bill submitted by the law commission after elaborate discussions with all the stakeholders. The revised bill has been sent to the government for its consideration and it will be introduced in parliament,” Narasimha said, adding that the Centre had formed a panel to look into this. He also said that the Bill would have adequate safeguards to ensure it is not misused, according to the Telegraph.

Bhushan had earlier said that when a doctor says that a terminally ill patient had reached a point of no return, then they should be given the right to refuse life support that prolongs their agony. In a country with a massive population like India’s, and no adequate healthcare facilities, he had said, it was no point in using scarce resources for the terminally ill with no hope of survival.

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