A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court sought a response and clarifications from the Central Government over a petition filed by Common Cause seeking a declaration that the ‘right to die with dignity’ be held a facet of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The petition had also prayed for a direction to the Centre and States to adopt suitable procedure to ensure that the persons with deteriorating health or the terminally ill be allowed to execute a document, viz., a ‘living will & Attorney authorization’.
Today the matter was listed before Anil R. Dave, Kurian Joseph, Shiva Kirti Singh, AK Goel, and RF Nariman JJ. Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Common Cause argued that it was inconceivable for a terminally ill patient, who did not wish to survive on machines, to be denied the option of putting an end to his misery.
“How can a person, who is terminally ill and is suffering from a virtually incurable disease, be told that he does not have any right to prevent an assault on his body?”
Highlighting the Court’s stance in Aruna Shanbaug, Bhushan added,
“In Aruna’s case also the Court had stated that a person [in her state] cannot be allowed to continue living like this.”
Picking up on this issue, Goel J. questioned Bhushan as to whether there was any specific law that prevented a patient from denying life support. Responding to this, Bhushan submitted that although there was no such law, doctors had been previously prosecuted in different instances because they withdrew life support to a patient who was in a vegetative state.
Singh J. also posed an interesting question to Bhushan that if such an ‘assault’ was assisting in the patient’s revival, would it still be deemed illegal. Bhushan replied to this by saying that an assessment on the patient’s condition would rest entirely on his treating physician.
“If the doctors have come to a conclusion that a patient is incurable and can be kept alive only by artificial means, then in such a situation the patient should be given the option to withdraw life support.”
Appearing for the Centre, ASG PS Patwalia argued that Regulation 6.7 of the Code of Medical Ethics Regulation 2002 conveyed the same thing as the position adopted in Aruna Shanbaug. He sought some time to file an affidavit in this regard.
“We do not support active euthanasia. The term ‘living will’ is a technical expression that a person, who is anticipating his death due to an incurable sickness, expresses his willingness to not be put on life support.”
After hearing submissions made by all the parties, the Bench adjourned the matter for further hearing on February 1.