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Supreme Court recognizes right to refuse medical treatment

11 March 2018

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.

In Kochi, a senior priest of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church said legal recognition of "living will" made by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia is against the Indian culture. On 7 March 2011 the Apex Court legalised passive euthanasia by means of the withdrawal of life support system to patients in a permanent vegetative state.

May 11, 2005: SC takes note of PIL of NGO "Common Cause" seeking nod to allow terminally-ill persons to execute a living will for passive euthanasia.

Mr & Mrs Lavate from Mumbai are unhappy over the Supreme Court decision for allowing only passive euthanasia. Second is the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) or Health Care Proxy and third is the Living Will (LW).

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.

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Dr Nagraj Huilgol, a noted radiation oncologist and president of the Society for the Right to Die with Dignity said that the living will was a paradigm shift that restored an individual's autonomy for decision-making.

The bench said if the doctor was satisfied that instructions given in the document needed to be acted upon, he should inform the executor or his guardian or a close relative about the nature of illness, availability of medical care and consequences of alternative forms of treatment.

"Free will includes the right of a person to refuse medical treatment", he said.

The CJI said though there was no legal framework in India as regards to the advance medical directive, the apex court was obliged to protect the right of the citizens enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The Chairman of the board nominated by the collector, that is, the Chief District Medical Officer, shall convey the decision of the board to the jurisdictional JMFC before giving effect to the decision to withdraw the medical treatment administered to the patient.

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"Today, the Supreme Court has delivered a historic judgment".

We also are of the opinion that in cases of incompetent patients who are unable to take an informed decision, "the best interests principle" be applied and such decision be taken by specified competent medical experts and be implemented after providing a cooling period to enable aggrieved person to approach the court of law.

He also said that a having a "living will" from the patient to stop medical treatment at a certain stage - such as when he/she is brain dead or clinically dead - helps remove regret or guilt for relatives and "criminal action against doctors".

Writing a separate but concurring 100-page judgment, Justice Bhushan reiterated the conclusion arrived at in a 1996 judgment by a constitution bench in the Gian Kaur case that the right to die with dignity is a fundamental right. If there are more than one valid advance directives, the latest one signed by the person will be considered as his last wish.

Residents of a chawl in Grant Road, both Iravati and Narayan now say that they have lived a complete life and do not wish for medical ailments to 'spoil their memories together.' They add that they are unsure how either would live if the other passes away.

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Supreme Court recognizes right to refuse medical treatment