A Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan delivered its verdict on passive euthanasia and living will being held valid. The Constitution Bench delivered its verdict on a PIL filed in 2005 by an NGO, Common Cause, which was being heard by a bench headed by then CJI P Sathasivam which referred the matter to a Constitution Bench to delve into the question put forth by the PIL.
The Five Judge Bench held euthanasia and assisted suicide as unlawful in India in the 1994 judgement in Gian Kaur V/s State of Punjab, thereby overruling the two judge bench in P. Rathinam V/s Union of India. Subsequently in the case of Aruna Shanbaug, the Supreme Court allowed passive euthanasia under strict supervision of the Court and that too only in cases of exceptional circumstances.
The Bench headed by CJI Misra delved deeply into understanding and deriving the principles constituting the inherent rights of an individual in relation to dying under exceptional and reasonable circumstances. In brief, various Indian and foreign judgments were read with reference to passive euthanasia and thus, the five-Judge Bench has now unanimously held that the two-Judge Bench in Arun Shanbaug had wrongly ruled that passive euthanasia can be made lawful “only by legislation” through an erroneous interpretation of the judgment in Gian Kaur. It further recognised and emphasized that “an adult human being having mental capacity to take an informed decision has right to refuse medical treatment including withdrawal from life-saving devices.”
The Bench further laid down a procedure, in its 538 page judgement, regarding a “Living Will” or an “Advance Directive”, which is a mode of choice for those terminally ill patients or those with deteriorating health to choose in advance not to remain in a vegetative state on life support as they would not be in a position to express their wishes later.
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Judgment: Common Cause V/s Union Of India