India's Supreme Court has handed down a landmark ruling authorising the use of “living wills” and streamlining the process for the withdrawal of treatment from dying patients.
The ruling -- which was in response to a plea made to the court by the public interest group "Common Cause" -- allows adults to write an advance directive indicating that they do not wish to receive life support if in a comatose or permanent vegetative state. The five-judge panel also outlined a process by which doctors and family members could apply through the courts to have life support withdrawn from a terminally ill and incapacitated patient.
The ruling comes three years after the death of Aruna Shanbaug, an Indian nurse who had been in hospital in a persistent vegetative state for over four decades, after being raped and strangled in 1973. Shanbaug was at the centre of a nationwide debate over the ethics and legality of the withdrawal of treatment.
“This is an important, historic decision, which clears the air,” said supreme court lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
“Everybody will breathe a sigh of relief, because people were earlier apprehensive that if they withdrew life support, they could be prosecuted for culpable homicide,” he added.
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