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Writing a ‘Living Will’ – What does it mean and when can one draft it?

Experts from the medical field explain us all that you need to know about writing a Living Will.

In a landmark judgement today the Supreme Court has upheld passive euthanasia for the terminally ill patient who can now exercise their right to die with dignity. The entire medical fraternity and public, in general, have welcomed this long overdue judgement. Previously various rights organisation had been fighting to allow terminally ill patients who are in a vegetative state to die with dignity. But the apex court had rejected such pleas in the past. The case that most Indians will remember is that of Aruna Shanbaugh, who spent 42 years in a vegetative state for whom journalist Pinki Virani had fought for her right to die with dignity. Ultimately Supreme Court had rejected the plea.

But living in a vegetative state is not just an unpleasant thing for the patient, who never gets to come back to life and live with dignity; it also imposes a kind of mental fatigue on the family members and the caregivers. Not to mention the financial burden it puts on them to continue with the treatment. Not just in Aruna's case but there have been a lot of families who remained in a perplexed state when a family member slipped into a coma or a vegetative state indefinitely and the doctors knew that there was no hope of return for the patient. This is why the judgment spells a sigh of relief to many.

The Supreme Court has also mentioned some strict guidelines under which a person can draft a 'living will.' The guidelines strictly say

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  • A living will can be made by a person in his normal state of health and mind.
  • If a person slips into a vegetative state the bill can be executed by a kin or a close friend of the patient.
  • However, the medical board will take the fill decision if it should stop life support for a person in a vegetative state.

How to draft a 'Living Will'?

We spoke to Dr Meghal Sanghvi, Onco-surgeon from Wockhardt Hospital to know who should be writing a living will and how? Here is what she has to say, 'Before writing a "Living Will" a person should be counselled about his/her illness and the consequences that can follow. Now every illness might not need one to write a will. But for people who are diagnosed with conditions that indicate deterioration more than the restoration of health, it makes sense for such patients to write a will. Patients who are diagnosed with fourth stage cancer or end-stage renal failure where despite treatment the chances of survival and living a quality life look bleak, they with help of their medical support team can draft a will. It makes perfect sense for them to declare that they would want to die with dignity rather than perish in a vegetative state.

'Ideally, patients who are old and ailing like around 70 to 75 years of age can draft a will if diagnosed with a terminal disease.'

'Especially, for a disease like cancer where it has metastases, for such patients writing a will is better so that doctors and also family members know what steps are to be taken will all due diligence is done,' says Dr Anup Ramani, Uro-Oncological & Robotic Surgeon, Lilavati, Breach Candy, Saifee Hospital. A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, also comprising Justice A.K.Sikri, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan said that its guidelines and directives shall remain in force till a legislation is brought to deal with the issue.

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