Freedom to Choose Death

In a landmark judgment, on 9thMarch 2018, the Supreme Court has allowed passive euthanasia, providing relief to those patients who are terminally ill. However, the main question is whether India is ready for it.

The main philosophy behind allowing passive euthanasia in the recent landmark judgment by the Supreme Court isthat ‘there can be no dignity in life if there is no dignity in death.’ This judgment is a victory for activists who fought a legal battle for years.

Basically, the demand of those activists wasvery simple, let the terminally ill patients have the right to decide whether they want to die peacefully,thereby ending their pain and suffering.

So, what is euthanasia? In simple term,it means mercy killing, the act of putting to death painlessly. There are two types of euthanasia,one is passive and another is active. In passive euthanasia, all medical treatment to a terminally ill patient is stopped to accelerate death. And in active euthanasia, a lethal dose is administered to end the life. This,however, is illegal in India.

Terminally ill patients are permitted to prepare a ‘living will’ if medical expert realizes there is no cure for their illness and will allow doctors to stop providing the life support systems, however under certain laid out guidelines.

A ‘living will’ is a legal document wherein a terminally ill patient gives the consent in advance to the doctors and relatives to remove the life support system or to end any treatment given to them. This ‘living will’have been permitted by the five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra.

Though in India this kind of move will create a lot of controversy in one hand however in another hand it will also bring relief to hundreds of terminally ill patients who are on the brink of death and also lessens the sufferings of their relatives. As per Chief Justice Misra, there are many patients who are living in constant pain and for them death can be a moment of celebration, as their sufferings will end.

“A patient in a terminally ill or persistent vegetative state exercising the right to refuse treatment may ardently wish to live but, at the same time, he may wish to be free from any medical surgery, drugs or treatment of any kind so as to avoid protracted physical suffering,” said Chief Justice Dipak Misra. He also said, “Any such person who has come of age and is of sound mind has a right to refuse medical treatment.”

Well whether this decision is good or bad, accepted or rejected, depends upon the situation a person is in. But one of the main issues will be how to tackle scheming relatives and or near and dear ones.

To make sure illegal deaths do not happen, the judgment has laid down some elaborate guidelines. A system has been put in place to keep a check so that the process remains transparent. This system will remain in force till the parliament passes the necessary legislation.

Strict guidelines have been set to make sure that the doctors perform their duties properly. Doctors will be responsible to ascertain how authentic the living will of the patient is. Doctors can act upon the living will only after the thorough examination of the patient and getting convinced that there is no cure and will also have to brief close relatives and guardians. A medical board will also have to be formed under which experts from various fieldshaving experience in critical care for the last 20 years should be present.

But to put this system in place in a country like India, will going to be a tough task since we are all bound together in some way, socially and culturally. It may sound a good option to put to rest painlessly a terminally ill patient particularly those who are in a vegetative state but to convince emotionally attached relatives is easier said than done.

Also, how can the system keep track on those greedy relatives who are after the wealth and property of the sick and dying?Because there were plenty of instances which happened in the past for thesame reason. And so this becomes a fearful situation.

Supreme Court may have drawn some elaborate guidelines which have to be followed strictly, but implementation will be the core to make passive euthanasia tosucceed ina proper valid way.

It has been a long battle, fought for many years by patients, their relatives, and the medical fraternity. One case which was prominent during the hearing time and judgment delivery time was the case of Arun Shanbaug, a 24-year-old Mumbai nurse. She was first brutally raped, and then with the intention of killing was strangled with a dog chain.However, she survived but her blood supply to the brain got cut off. She remained in a coma for 42 years until her death.This incident took place in 1973.

Robust safeguard measures are required and lawmakers are already preparing the proposed law. But they will have to be very careful and have to weigh every point from every direction so that this provision is not misused by anyone, and stringent law should also have to be made if anyone tries to illegally harm an innocent patient

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