The “Will” to Life and Death

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“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Very much relevant in today’s time too, this masterpiece by Shakespeare proves worthy of evaluation, more so in the light of recent Supreme Court judgment permitting the Living Will. It should have been taken a long time back, but even now, it still is a welcome step.

Aruna was brutally raped and was left in a vegetative state by her perpetrator. She was alive yet dead. Supreme Court, in case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India & Ors (March 7, 2011), allowed for Passive Euthanasia – hastening the death of the terminally ill by ceasing the prolongation of life, staff nursing her refused to pull the plug as they now felt attached to her after taking care of her for so many years. Alas, Aruna may have had to endure the suffering for long. She died in peace after 42 years in a coma in 2015.

Last October, the Centre drafted The Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill. The government rightly considered the Right to Die as an integral part of the Fundamental Right of Right to Life. The Supreme Court had already confirmed that Article 21 implicitly states that the Right to Life not just includes mere existence but the Right to Live with dignity and on these lines, Centre allowed for Passive Euthanasia. But the bill was against the notion of living will.

The Supreme Court has specified some stringent procedure to be followed while executing the option of a living will by an individual. Any person who wants to exercise it should be an adult of a sound mind. The Judicial Magistrate, who is to countersign the living will, must be satisfied that the will is being made voluntarily and without any coercion. Also, at the time of withdrawal of life support, the presence of a lot of documentation doesn’t really make it full proof. There are still some gaps which have to be plugged.

The advanced directive document of which the elderly will be the leading beneficiaries are the most vulnerable to the family pressures. When people nowadays are just after the ancestral property, it would be a bit difficult for the authorities to check for the authenticity of the will. Also, experts claim it to a channel for the rich where the nexus between them and the doctors can be easily exploited and the organs of the deceased can be traded to their benefit.

There is also the risk of advances in medical technology which may not have been available at the time of making the living will. Again, when the doctor is sworn to guard the life of the patient and to do anything within his ambit not to let the patient die, this may put the doctor in an unaccounted dilemma. People also pitch for the legalization of Active euthanasia wherein a person directly and deliberately causes a person’s death as opposed to passive euthanasia, where they just allow them to die.

It is thus a high time for the government to make a law to streamline the process of Living Will and to be assured that it may not be misused in any case whatsoever. A supposed boon for the sufferers may never end up being a curse for them.

PS Thanks Anwesha for the suggestion! 😉

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