Living Will and Passive Euthanasia


In a historic decision, the Supreme Court on Friday declared passive euthanasia and the right of persons, including the terminally ill, to give advance directives to refuse medical treatment acceptable.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Misra and comprising AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, had on 11th October last year reserved its verdict on the plea.

The court has also allowed an individual to draft a living will specifying that they choose to not be put on life support if they slip into an incurable coma in the future. A ‘living will’ states that a person can make a statement in advance that their life should not be prolonged by putting them on an artificial support system or a ventilator.

Chief Justice Misra, in a common verdict with Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, said it was time to “alleviate the agony of an individual” and stand by his right to a dignified passing. The five-judge Bench agreed in a unanimous voice, a dignified death should follow a meaningful existence

Passive Euthanasia can be described as a condition where there is the removal of the medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.

A living will is a concept closely associated with passive euthanasia. The Supreme Court, however, had earlier observed that there should be sufficient safeguards, and the implementation of living will be subjected to medical board’s certifying that the patient’s comatose state is irreversible.

Right to die peacefully is part of Fundamental Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. Article 21 provides that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law“.

To deprive a person dignity at the end of life is to deprive him of a meaningful existence,” Justice Chandrachud expressed his opinion, the one he shared with Justice Ashok Bhushan.


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