Right to Life vs Die With Dignity: Supreme Court to Decide on Passive Euthanasia and Living Will

The move comes just two days after the state assembly came down heavily on the Central Water Commission chairman, who also holds the additional charge of the CWMA head, for giving Karnataka permission to prepare detailed project report for the controversial Mekadatu reservoir.

New Delhi: Will the right to life include the right to die with dignity? The Supreme Court will on Friday deliver a significant judgment on passive euthanasia and living will, postulating these principles on one's right to life.

In a verdict that is set to break new grounds and demonstrate an evolution of Indian legal jurisprudence, a Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, will rule upon one's right to choose how he should die in cases of terminal illness.

The top court needs to examine the scope and width of the right to life under Article 21 to decide whether it could even include a choice to die in certain circumstances.

The dilemma was apparent during the hearing of this PIL before the five-judge bench last year when it was pointed out that attempt to take one's life is still a criminal offence under the IPC and recognising passive euthanasia is amenable to be misused.

While the PIL petitioner 'Common Cause' has emphasised that there has to be dignity even in death when a person knows his ailments are incurable, the Central government has tried to flag the scope of abuse if living wills are legalised through an order of the apex court.

The dilemma was apparent during the course of the arguments when the constitutional issue arises as to whether one's right to self-determination should include the right to waive the fundamental right to life under Article 21.

If the Supreme Court is finally satisfied that right to give up life support system and mediation to die with dignity is a lost a facet of right to live with dignity, the Court would need to lay down adequate guidelines to ensure this right is not misused to exploit elders, poor or other vulnerable people.

The Court will also need to keep in mind that at a time when medical science has progressed so much, what should be the stage where passive euthanasia can be permitted.

The process of drafting living will — whereby a person can issue an advance directive about not to be put on life support in case of terminal illness — would also require sufficient safeguards against the possibility of misuse. Doctors and magistrate will have to be roped in to make certain living wills are prepared without any kind of duress in a mentally sound condition and contain reasonable clauses, making them authentic documents.

On Friday, the Supreme Court is set to script a judicial precedent that would juxtapose right to life with prolongation of life only at the cost of pain and suffering, which may deprive one's dignity and peace.