• The Supreme Court has recognized the right to die with dignity to be inherent in the fundamental right to life and personal liberty.
  • This means that legal validity is granted to assisted suicide (euthanasia) for persons suffering from terminal diseases, living in persistent vegetative state, comatose state or brain dead, etc.
  • What is allowed – Removal of life sustaining or prolonging medicines, machines and devices is acceptable in the presence of trained medical professionals. That is, only passive euthanasia is legal.
  • What is not allowed – Taking any actual step to end someone’s life like administering a lethal injection, poison or heart stopping drugs, etc., even by medical professionals is not allowed. This means that active euthanasia is still a crime.
  • Where a patient in such condition is conscious and mentally competent, he or she can consent to passive euthanasia.
  • When he is unconscious or incapable of taking such a call, a ‘next friend’ can decide on his behalf.
  • You can also take this decision in advance too by making a “Living Will’ while you are hale and hearty. It will include specific instructions on how your medical care should be administered in such situations. For e.g., you can state whether you should be resuscitated or not, whether your life should be artificially prolonged by keeping you on a ventilator or not, etc.
  • How the Supreme Court came to this decision – A Timeline of Cases –
    • 1994 Rathinam case (MANU/SC/0335/1996) – Held that criminalizing suicide was inhuman.
    • 1996 Gian Kaur case (MANU/SC/0335/1996) – Held that the right to life does not include the right to die and even doctors cannot actively assist in ending a patient’s life.
    • 2011 Aruna Shaunbag Case (MANU/SC/0176/2011) – Held that passive euthanasia is exigent circumstances was not illegal.
    • 2018 Common Cause Society Case (MANU/SC/0232/2018) – Held that passive euthanasia and living wills are legal to give effect to a person’s right to die with dignity.

This article has been authored by Varnika Jain from Team LawSkills.

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