A WELCOME JUDGMENT

While the nation’s Apex Court has delivered a landmark judgment stating that human beings have the right to die with dignity thus allowing passive euthanasia, subject to ensuring that set out strict guidelines govern it when permitted and the same having been welcomed by a substantial section of the Indian society, the way ahead is not going to be easy initially. The complexity of the issue can be well gauged from the fact that though the judges were unanimous that a ‘living will’ should be allowed, because an individual should not be allowed to continue suffering in a vegetative state when they don’t wish to continue living, yet they gave four separate opinions. The Supreme Court has meticulously set in place strict guidelines for carrying out the mandate of a ‘living will’ by clearly specifying who is authorised to give effect to it, involving a medical board to determine whether the patient in a vegetative state could be revived or not, etc. The apex court judgement while realizing the pitfalls in giving effect to ‘living wills’, considering the property disputes relatives have or in case a patient has made no ‘living will’ has made provision for the relatives of such patients to approach high courts asking for passive euthanasia. It is a fact that there is a substantial number of patients who have reached a point of no return besides suffering enormous pain and agony for years making their life more than a hell. Such situations resulted in a vigorous debate on the issue that Right to Life automatically includes Right to Death within it. The opinion evolving over the years on the issue was that a person should at least have the right to prevent torture on his body in a condition where there is no scope for preventing it through medical treatment and the said patient remains merely a body for experimenting thus bearing the worst pangs which most of the times is intolerable even for the family members who are witness to the misery of their loved one 24X7. It would not be wrong to say that keeping a patient alive by artificial means against his/her wishes is no less than an assault on his/her body. The five judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India deserves full appreciations for the almost fool proof procedure for executing the ‘living will’ so that there is least chance of misuse of the right, especially in case the patient reaches the stage whereby he or she is not in a position to communicate or express due to the terminal illness. Involving the family members/ relatives, the Medical Board and the Judicial Magistrate First Class for drafting, recording and preserving such wills are the requisite safety measures well considered and incorporated by the apex court. Besides there are provisions for revocation by the patient or the relative in addition to approaching the High Courts in case of refusal to grant permission by the Medical Board. Though prima facie it appears that every aspect connected to the issue has been well addressed by the Supreme Court, yet only the coming time will reveal how far this landmark judgment will succeed in addressing in true spirit the genuine concern of the patients in such distressful stage of no return especially in view of the past history of some very good laws having failed when it comes to implementation. Whatever be the case the Supreme Court justices deserve kudos for the landmark judgement.