The Union government has now informed a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court that its experts are examining a draft Bill proposed by the Law Commission in its 241st report.
Whether patients who are terminally ill and possibly beyond the scope of medical revival can be allowed to die with dignity? The question was raised with a great deal of passion in the case of Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who lay in a vegetative state in a Mumbai hospital between 1973 and 2015.
In a landmark 2011 verdict, the Supreme Court laid down a broad legal framework. It ruled out any backing for active euthanasia, or the taking of a specific step such as injecting the patient with a lethal substance, to put an end to a patient’s suffering, as that would be clearly illegal. It allowed ‘passive euthanasia’, or the withdrawal of life support, subject to safeguards and fair procedure. It made it mandatory that every instance should get the approval of a High Court Bench, based on consultation with a panel of medical experts.
The question now before a Constitution Bench on a petition by the NGO Common Cause is whether the right to live with dignity under Article 21 includes the right to die with dignity, and whether it is time to allow ‘living wills’, or written authorisations containing instructions given by persons in a healthy state of mind to doctors that they need not be put on life-support systems or ventilators in the event of their going into a persistent vegetative state or state of terminal illness.
The law will be designed specifically to deal with patients not competent to decide for themselves because of their medical condition.