Right to refuse treatment different from suicide: Supreme Court

The court said the right to refuse medical treatment stands on a different pedestal as compared to suicide, physician-assisted suicide or even euthanasia.

Published: 10th March 2018 05:33 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th March 2018 05:33 AM   |  A+A-

Supreme Court of India (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: The court referred to various judgments abroad and said it has been held by a US court that “every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body.”The court said the right to refuse medical treatment stands on a different pedestal as compared to suicide, physician-assisted suicide or even euthanasia.

“When a terminally ill patient refuses to take medical treatment, it can neither be termed euthanasia nor suicide,” it said. CJI in its 192-page judgement noted that in case of a terminally-ill patient or a person in persistent vegetative state (PVS) where there was no hope of recovery, “accelerating the process of death for reducing the period of suffering constitutes a right to live with dignity”.“Right to life and liberty as envisaged under Article 21 is meaningless unless it encompasses within its sphere the individual dignity,” CJI said Justice Sikri, who wrote a 112-page separate verdict, concurred with the directions given by the CJI and hoped that the Legislature would step in at the earliest and enact a comprehensive law on ‘living will/advance directive’ so that “there is a proper statutory regime to govern various aspects and nuances thereof which also take care of the apprehensions that are expressed against euthanasia.”

In his judgement, Justice Bhushan reiterated the conclusion arrived at in a 1996 judgement by a constitution bench in the Gian Kaur case that the right to die with dignity is a fundamental right.  “We declare that an adult human being having mental capacity to take an informed decision has the right to refuse medical treatment, including withdrawal from life-saving devices.”

The top court also held that when passive euthanasia as a “situational palliative measure becomes applicable”, the best interest of the patient shall override the state interest. Expressing concern over the fact that there was no legal framework as regards to the advance medical directive, the apex court said it was court’s duty to oblige and protect the right of the citizens enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution.

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