Middle-class families treat the elderly at home as a burden

Middle-class families treat the elderly at home as a burden

Middle class families can be spared suffering in having to pay endless hospital bills if their kin are reduced to a state in which there's no guarantee life support systems plus medication can bring the person suffering a terminal illness back to a state of normality. The bench said that it would lay down norms governing how such living wills have to be drawn up, executed and given effect to.

Active euthanasia, or assisted suicide, is not allowed in India.

The CJI said that a person's advance directive meant to die with dignity should take effect only when a medical board affirms that the person's medical condition was incurable and irreversible. These are advance directives that people can lay down while being sound of mind, on whether they should continue to get life-sustaining treatment after they reach a stage of total incapacitation, that is, a vegetative state.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday indicated that it might allow execution of "living will" in cases of passive euthanasia with safeguards like approval by the medical board and where the patient is comatose and their condition is irreversible.

In a significant statement, the Modi government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it had agreed in principle to permit "passive euthanasia".

During the course of the hearing, Justice Chandrachud observed that a conscious person, who is aware of medical advancement is entitled to decide whether or not he requires the life support system.

On the other side of the debate, Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO "Common Cause", said that in India, where resources are so limited, living wills should be legally acceptable in order to avoid creating a hopeless situation for the middle-class.

Bhushan went as far as to justify even active euthanasia as he said that a person facing the only option of leading a life with suffering and pain, should have the right decide that he wanted to put an end to life without dignity. Such living wills may be misused, said additional solicitor general PS Narasimha. It would, however, be ideal if the "living will" is also recognised in law. This was to resolve the inconsistencies between the Aruna Shanbaug case (which allowed passive euthanasia under certain safeguards), and the Gian Kaur case (which held that the right to life does not include the right to die).

A certificate from a statutory medical board that a patient's condition is beyond cure and irreversible would take care of the fear of relatives and doctors about withdrawing life support, Justice Sikri said.

The second day witnessed arguments on the issue of whether a "living will" be treated as the final word or the examination report of the medical board be given preference over the same. If the patient is above 16 years of age, then consent with regard to such a decision has to also be obtained from their parents or major spouse.