Social Issues

Death with dignity

Dhyeya IAS | IAS, PCS, UPSC, Best Institute for IAS, PCS Exam Preparation

Constitution Bench allows ‘living wills’ with safeguards Holds that right to die with dignity is a part of the basic right to life says that quality of life is as important as prolonging it. The core philosophy underlying the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing passive euthanasia and giving legal status to ‘advance directives’ is that the right to a dignified life extends up to the point of having a dignified death.

The Supreme Court has upheld passive euthanasia and the right to give advance medical directives or ‘Living Wills’ to smoothen the dying process as part of the fundamental right to live with dignity.

Types of Euthanasia:

  • Passive euthanasia means withdrawing life support to induce death in a natural way. OR It is the act of withdrawing or withholding medical support to a dying patient who has no hope for revival or cure.
  • Active euthanasia means injecting legal drugs to induce death. This is not permitted in India as India is not comfortable with the idea.


Meaningful existence: includes a person’s right to self-determination and autonomy to decide his medical treatment, the court held. Justice Ashok Bhushan agreed that right to a dignified life includes a “dignified procedure of death.”

How will this judgment be beneficial?

  • Modern medical science should balance its quest to prolong life with the task of ensuring “quality of life.” To maintain the quality of life this decision will be very helpful.
  • The court distinguished passive euthanasia from suicide and active euthanasia. It called passive euthanasia as a “mere acceleration of the inevitable conclusion.” Active euthanasia, the court concluded, is unlawful. Suicide involves “overt acts” which culminates in an unnatural death.
  • The court’s reasoning is unexceptionable when it says burdening a dying patient with life-prolonging treatment and equipment merely because medical technology has advanced would be destructive of her dignity.
  • No More Sufferings: Societal pressure and fear of criminal liability by relatives and medical doctors had led to suffering and undignified deaths. Such sufferings can be avoided now.

The stand of Government:

  • The government submitted that it was in the process of introducing a law to regulate passive euthanasia, but opposed the concept of an advance directive on the ground that it was liable to be misused.

The Way Forward:

  • The core message is that all adults with the capacity to give consent “has the right of self-determination and autonomy”, and the right to refuse medical treatment is also encompassed in it. 
  • The stringent conditions imposed by the court regarding advance directives are intended to serve as a set of robust safeguards and allay any apprehensions about misuse.
  • Countries like Canada have given legal recognition to the concept of a “living will”, where people lay down directives in advance on how they should be treated if they end up in a vegetative state. So India is on the path to follow the International standards in the matter of Euthanasia.
  • The court is justified in concluding that advance directives will strengthen the will of the treating doctors by assuring them that they are acting lawfully in respecting the patient’s wishes. An advance directive, after all, only reflects the patient’s autonomy and does not amount to recognition of a wish to die.