NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to “tweak” its 2018 verdict on passive euthanasia to make the procedure and guidelines fixed by it workable, and said that it may fix a time frame within which medical boards would have to submit reports to remove life-support systems from a terminally ill patient. Admitting that the procedure prescribed by the apex court in 2018 was very onerous and time consuming, a five-judge constitution bench of Justices K M Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar sought suggestions from the Centre and senior advocates Arvind Datar and Prashant Bhushan to make it workable without compromising with the safeguards put in place by the court four years ago while legalising passive euthanasia. The process prescribed in 2018 not only involves family members and doctors but also judicial magistrates and collectors. Besides, two medical boards need to be constituted before life-support system can be withdrawn. The verdict said the living will, or advance directive for not putting a person on artificial life-support system, has to be made in the presence of two attesting witnesses and countersigned by the jurisdictional judicial magistrate of first class (JMFC). In the event of a person becoming terminally ill, the treating physician shall ascertain the living will’s authenticity from the JMFC. If the physician is satisfied, the hospital shall then set up a medical board consisting of the head of the treating department and at least three expert doctors. If the medical board recommends removal of life support, the hospital shall inform the collector, who shall then constitute another medical board comprising the chief district medical officer and three expert doctors. If the board allows withdrawing treatment, it shall convey the decision to the JMFC before allowing life support to be withdrawn. JMFC shall visit the patient and, after examining all aspects, may permit implementation of the directive.
Seeking modification in the procedure, lawyers contended that time was crucial for terminally ill patients and the whole purpose of passive euthanisa was defeated due to the time taken by the process. That was the reason why there has not been a single case of passive euthanasia in the last four years despite it being legalised, they added.
Agreeing with their contention, the bench observed that dying in peace was dying with dignity, and suffering of a patient should not be prolonged due to the lengthy process. It said that the court could set a time limit for completion of the two-tier procedure without delay and also consider that a living be prepared like normal will without the mandatory presence of a judicial officer. The bench sought response from the Centre on whether it intended to frame a law for its regulation as the court had said in 2018. Paving the way for passive euthanasia, the apex court had in 2018 said, “It has to be stated without any trace of doubt that the right to live with dignity also includes the smoothening of the process of dying in case of a terminally ill patient or a person in PVS (persistent vegetative state) with no hope of recovery. A failure to legally recognise advance medical directives may amount to non-facilitation of the right to smoothen the dying process and the right to live with dignity.”
NEW DELHI: Amidst divergent opinions evading consensus on various points to make 2018 verdict on passive euthanisa workable on ground, the Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed in principle to keep judicial officer and district collector out of the process for making living will and setting up of medical board for removing life support system for terminally ill patients. Facing the onerous task to tweak 2018 verdict without modifying it and to continue with the safeguard put in place four years back, Justices KM Joseph, Ajay Rastogi Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and Justice CT Ravikumar are exploring ways to build consensus among parties, including the Centre, to make the process of making and executing living will or advance directive practical and less cumbersome for the patient. As the petitioner, represented by advocate Arvind Datar and additional solicitor general KM Nataraj, agreed that there was no need to involve judicial magistrate of first class (JMFC) in the process of preparation of will, the bench agreed that the living will can be attested by notary or a gazetted rank officer. As per 2018 verdict, the living will or advance directive, for not putting on artificial life support system, has to be made in the presence of two attesting witnesses and countersigned by the jurisdictional JMFC. The court also in principle agreed that collectors be kept out of the process and will take a call on who should be entrusted with the task to constitute secondary medical board.