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Asia Minute: India’s Supreme Court in Landmark Ruling on Death with Dignity


One issue moving through Hawai‘i’s legislature this session concerns what supporters call “death with dignity.” It would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients. Late last week, India’s Supreme Court issued a ruling that stops far short of that, but still marks a big change. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

India’s Supreme Court has legalized what’s known as a “living will” or an advance directive.

That allows a person to choose how much medical treatment they want if they become seriously ill. Specifically, it allows a person to stipulate in advance that in case he or she slips into a terminal medical condition, his or her life should not be prolonged through extensive support.

It also lets a person name a relative or guardian to give them the authority to remove them from life support.

Credit Calleamanecer / Wikipedia

The court issued a ruling of more than 500 pages—including opinions from four justices. In one passage that was written by the chief justice, the court said the “right to die with dignity is an intrinsic facet of right to life” that is guaranteed under India’s Constitution.

It’s a landmark decision for India.

The ruling stops short of allowing medically-assisted suicide, or “active euthanasia,” and lays out stringent guidelines for the preparation and use of “living wills.”

The Times of India says one concern in that area was, quote, “to prevent possible misuse by greedy relatives eyeing the patient’s property.”

One justice wrote that the ruling affirms that “freedom and liberty” are at the “core of meaningful life.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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