Supreme Court enforces guidelines on living will
Recently, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice KM Joseph simplified the ‘living will’ rules on passive euthanasia in terminal illness cases by removing red tape and establishing a time-bound process.
Living Will –
- It may be noted that the ‘living will’ rules were laid down by the Supreme Court in its 2018 judgment in Common Cause v. Union of India and others, which allowed passive euthanasia.
- In a 2018 judgement, the Court recognized the “right to die with dignity” as a part of the “right to life” under Article 21, on the grounds that a person can exercise a living will. The patient can draft a will detailing what kind of life support system he does not want to continue in case he slips into a coma after a terminal illness.
- Explain that active euthanasia involves an active intervention to end a person’s life with substances or external force, such as administering a lethal injection.
- Whereas passive euthanasia refers to the withdrawal of life support or treatment that is necessary to keep a sick person alive.
Living Will – 2018 Guidelines
- As per the 2018 guidelines, a living will was required to be signed by an executor (the person seeking euthanasia) in the presence of two attested witnesses, and further signed by a Judicial Magistrate of the First Class (JMFC).
- In addition, the treating physician was required to constitute a board of three expert physicians to decide whether or not to execute a living will. These doctors should have at least 20 years of experience.
- If the Medical Board permits, the Living Will is sent to the District Collector for approval. The Collector was then to constitute another medical board of three specialist doctors including the Chief District Medical Officer.
- Only if this second board agreed with the hospital board’s findings was the decision referred to the JMF. The JMF would then go to the hospital to examine the patient to see if passive euthanasia would be allowed.
Living Will-2023 Guidelines (Supreme Court)-
- Hospital and collector, instead of making two medical boards, now both the boards will make hospitals.
- The requirement of 20 years of experience has been reduced to five years for doctors on the three-member board.
- By doing away with the requirement of Magistrate’s approval, it has now been made mandatory to give only information to the Magistrate.
- As per the 2018 judgement, only a judicial magistrate could attest or countersign a living will, which would remain with the district court.
- In the new apex court judgement, this power has been given to a notary or a gazetted officer and the document will now be in the National Health Records accessible by hospitals.
- The 2018 judgment did not mention any stipulated time within which the decision was to be taken. Now, a secondary board will be constituted by the hospital immediately and the primary/secondary board will have to take a decision within 48 hours on whether to withdraw further treatment.
Source – Indian Express