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Patient’s choice: Living will elevates passive euthanasia

In asserting the right to die with dignity and giving legal sanction to passive euthanasia and living wills, Supreme Court has reiterated the individual’s sovereignty over the body. Though the government took the lead in decriminalising suicide and is ready with a draft legislation formalising passive euthanasia, it struck a contradictory note in opposing living wills, essentially a person’s desire to exit from life at a point of no return. Living wills authorise doctors and relatives to exercise passive euthanasia and withdraw life support in the event of terminal illness or slide into a vegetative state or irreversible coma.


The government argument that living wills can be abused by greedy relatives is unconvincing. In passive euthanasia, no individual is given inordinate powers to take a life and safeguards require judicial scrutiny and a medical board comprising a team of doctors to make the recommendation. Choosing death, giving birth, abortion, making love, eating food, wearing clothes, and turning religious are extremely personal choices people make. The state must know where to get off. Choosing not to prolong one’s life artificially is a human right and a humanitarian choice, especially when pain is involved.


A passive euthanasia legislation that does not incorporate living wills is half baked, to put it mildly. Unlike relatives or friends making a choice for a person who has slipped into coma, a living will carries the moral force of a patient’s own choice to not prolong life. Medical ethics demand doctors educate patients and relatives about the implications and effectiveness of life support systems like ventilators, but commercial imperatives of hospitals triumph all too often. Like the privacy judgment, the right to die with dignity is a way for courts to support people living life on their own terms rather than being infantilised by government or exploited by commerce.

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