It is not quite clear why the Centre is opposing legalising “advance medical directives” or “living will”—a directive issued by a medically fit individual who is legally deemed as competent to issue such a directive, regarding end-of-life medical care should such a situation arise. The Supreme Court, which legalised passive euthanasia, or medically supervised hastening of death of a person in a vegetative state through withdrawal of life-support, has come out strongly in favour of legalising living wills. The government, on the other hand, is more circumspect. It is not that it is wary of legalising a person’s right to choose a dignified death. The Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill 2016 says that a terminally-ill patient’s direction to the medical practitioner attending to her regarding withholding/withdrawing or starting/ continuing treatment is binding on the latter provided the doctor is convinced that the patient is competent as defined in the Bill and her decision is an informed one, taken of her own volition. So, it is odd that the government doesn’t want to allow a legally competent person to take the same decision well in advance so that in case she is declared brain dead and it is thus impossible for her to decide, her agony is not prolonged—the Bill declares advance medical directives and medical power-of-attorney as void and not binding on the attending medical practitioners.
To be sure, the right to life doesn’t encompass the right to die—and thus there is a tricky terrain that must be crossed if living will is to be legalised without any loopholes that result in unintended consequences. At the same time, the government should recognise, as the Supreme Court does, that the right to a dignified end is very much a part of the right to life. Denying citizens the final say in how their lives come to an end to hedge for a situation where they are no longer able to convey their decision is a definite violation of the right to a dignified end. Requiring a medical board to decide that there is no scope of recovery, however remote, is all the check living will needs to avoid any negative fallout. The government should include a meticulously detailed framework on this in its proposed law instead of summarily rejecting legalising living wills.