Important decision from the Supreme Court of India with possible positive impact on end of life care.

2017 August 31
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The recent verdict of the Supreme Court of India on the “privacy act” includes an observation by Justice Chelameswar on the right to privacy being inclusive of the right to self-determination on end of life care.

Please see the following evaluation by Arghya Sengupta:

“I have closely read the judgment and having been part of the case might be able to help in decoding some of the legalese.

1. The judges have unanimously held privacy to be part of personal liberty that we enjoy under Article 21 of the Constitution.

2. This essentially entails the recognition that an individual ought to be free to decide for himself/ herself in critical matters without interference from others/ state.

3. The question which will then arise is: What are these critical matters?

4. Though the answer to this will develop on a case-by-case basis, one of the judges Justice Chelameswar, says on p. 303 (of the pdf; p. 37 of his opinion), that one such matter is an individual’s decision to refusal to prolong treatment and terminate one’s life.

5. While this is not binding law, it provides a strong argument which can be used when the matter is next taken up, either legislatively or in court, that the right to privacy ought to extend to the individual’s decision to refuse to prolong treatment. However it should be noted that the right claimed is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions. To assess whether any restriction by the State on the right to refuse to prolong treatment will be reasonable, will depend on the exact nature of the restriction in that case.

So overall, the judgment on the whole, and the specific reference to the refusal to prolong treatment, are both encouraging developments. Trust this clarifies.”

Thank you Mr Sengupta for this erudite evaluation.

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