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India wins Right to Die with Dignity

March 9, 2018



Supreme Court of India today held that right to die with dignity is a fundamental right.


The Bench also held that passive euthanasia ( even as end of life care professionals argue the inaccuracy of the word usage) and a living will also legally valid.


The Court has issued detailed guidelines in this regard.


The Constitution Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan delivered its verdict on a PIL filed by the NGO Common Cause in 2005, and argued by lawyer Prashant Bhushan seeking legal recognition for ‘living will’ in India.


Bhushan argued that when a medical expert suggests that a person afflicted with a terminal disease has reached a point of no return, he should be given the right to refuse being put on life support system as it would only prolong his agony.


It was a bench headed by the Chief Justice P Sathasivam which referred this case to Constitution Bench on a plea that a terminally ill person should be given relief from agony by withdrawing artifice medical support. 


The government argued that a living will be misused and may not be viable as a part of public policy. It said that it had agreed in principle to permit ‘passive euthanasia’, allowing the withdrawal of life support from patients in a permanently vegetative state and permitting them to die. The government even said it had drafted a ‘management of patients with terminal illness, withdrawal of medical life support bill’.


SC was prima facie of the opinion that there should be guidelines for drafting ‘living wills’ also and authenticating them.


Not agreeing with the government completely, the bench said that it would lay down norms governing how such living wills can be drawn up, executed and given effect to.


“Now that you have decided to allow passive euthanasia, we have to evolve safeguards,” the CJI said. The CJI refused to leave the issue of whether to allow a person to pass on with dignity and in peace, in accordance with his wishes, to the government. “The individual’s will, his right will be thwarted in such a case,” he said.


The bench said that advance directive by a person in the form of ‘living will’ can even be approved by a magistrate.


Bhushan had argued that the right to die peacefully was part of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.


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