Centre is right in opposing living will, family’s right should be supreme in deciding ‘passive euthanasia’

The Supreme Court after being convinced of the need for passive euthanasia or mercy killing in Aruna Shaunbaug’s case is now considering a petition by activist Prashant Bhushan’s NGO Common Cause seeking to go a step further and respect an individual’s desire to die with dignity on the ground that it is coterminous with right to life with dignity enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution.

Representational image. Reuters

The Centre is right in opposing the idea of living will. It is right in saying it is already a part of the draft bill. The draft bill, called The Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of patients and medical Practitioners ) Bill, 2016, says every advance medical directive (also called ‘living will’) or medical power of attorney executed by a person shall be taken into consideration in matter of withholding or withdrawing medical treatment but it shall not be binding on any medical practitioner.

In other words, the living will can, according to the Centre, at best supplement the close relatives in the horns of a dilemma. The Supreme Court has already given the right to the close family members of the person in a permanent vegetable state or coma to pray for passive euthanasia before the medical board. What the Centre apparently feels is this dilemma that wrenches the heart of the relatives would be lessened if the patient himself has given his consent to die honorably without being kept alive artificially through life support system indefinitely in a brain dead state. Euthanasia indeed is founded on the sobering albeit depressing thought that a person needs to have a brain — to feel pain and pleasure and communicate — more than a heart.

However, it would be dangerous to set store entirely by the living will of a person in a permanent vegetable state which implies his wishes in this regard will override the family’s. Implicit in this overriding power is the notion that a man should have a greater and direct control over his life than his parents and other close relatives. The argument is as specious as it is dangerous.

A living will pose the existential problem — where on earth is it kept? Should it be recorded in his driving license or other identity documents like Aadhaar like Spain does on driving license with regard to a person’s desire to donate his organs on his brain death in an accident? Should it, like property will be allowed to be changed any number of times in one’s lifetime with the last-will-is-the-final-will principle being applied to the living will as well? Will it go through forensic tests before it is believed given the fact that vested interests may conspire to produce a living will from out of thin air? Will property will and living will be an integrated whole incapable of being written separately? Will a living will also be capable of being written in negative termscome what may I should never be given passive euthanasia? If property wills can be changed whimsically or after careful deliberations warranted by the change of realities, living wills are innately bound to be whimsical and even regretted on the deathbed!

The moot question is if indeed a person who is in a permanent vegetable state has the right to die with dignity given the fact that he is in no position to feel pleasure or pain leave alone cherish the nebulous and lofty notion of dignity. Indeed if anything it is family’s rights that are paramount in life and death matters. A ward can choose his own spouse or career or place of living and his parents have to grin and bear at times but can they even stand the ward’s desire to die when they often put everything in their command including slender resources to keep him alive. Yes the Centre is right. Living will should be supplemental but subservient to family’s right to request or not for mercy killing.

Published Date: Oct 11, 2017 08:21 pm | Updated Date: Oct 11, 2017 08:21 pm

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