Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
From the UPSC perspective following things are important:
Prelims Level: Vegetative state, Living will.
Mains Level: Much debated topic. The SCs cognizance on the issue has made it more important for the Mains paper.
- The article talks about the recent case came before the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court
- The case is on allowing euthanasia as a means to protect the dignity of patients in a vegetative state
What is a vegetative state?
- A vegetative state is absence of responsiveness and awareness due to overwhelming dysfunction of the cerebral hemispheres(a part of brain), with sufficient sparing of the diencephalon and brain stem to preserve autonomic and motor reflexes and sleep-wake cycles
What is a living will?
- A written statement detailing a person’s desires regarding future medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent, especially an advance directive
Should the law allow ‘living wills’?
- The court will have to resolve the question whether the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution(while taking decision on euthanasia and living will)
- And according to an earlier verdict, Article 21 does not include the right to die
- And a living will may relieve the close family members and caregivers of a terminally ill patient of the moral burden of making a life-ending decision
Courts reaction on this
- While reserving its verdict, the court has indicated that it may lay down comprehensive guidelines on operationalising the idea of living wills
Government’s stance on the issue
- The government has opposed the concept of an advance directive, arguing that it would be against public policy and the right to life
- The government is rightly concerned that the idea may be misused and result in the neglect of the elderly
Earlier judgement of SC on Euthanasia
- The Supreme Court, in a landmark verdict in 2011, ruled out any support for active euthanasia
- But laid down a broad legal framework for passive euthanasia, or the withdrawal of life support subject to safeguards and a fair procedure
The way forward
- In the present case, the court may have to draw up stringent safeguards for certifying living wills, preferably by a judicial officer
- And lay down the exact stage at which the advance directive becomes applicable
- The court’s observation that it would initiate only after a medical board rules that a person’s condition is incurable
- So, Living wills, if sanctified in law, should come with robust safeguards