Health experts and the legal fraternity on Friday welcomed the Supreme Court verdict upholding passive euthanasia as "long overdue" but it drew criticism from the catholic church which said the measure could be misused.
In its landmark judgement, the apex court permitted an individual to draft a 'living will', which is also called an advanced directive, specifying that they not be put on life support if they slip into an incurable coma in the future.
The verdict, which also put in place some strict guidelines, was also welcomed by human rights activist Pinki Virani, who had sought mercy killing for Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who was in a vegetative state for 42 years after being brutally raped by a wardboy before she died in 2015.
Shanbaug was the face of the debate on euthanasia in India.
The Indian Medical Association said the judgement was long overdue and would pave the way in ensuring that everybody is granted the "right to die with dignity".
AIIMS' assiastant professor in the geriatrics department and founder president of Healthy Aging India, Dr Prasoon Chatterjee said recognising the concept of 'living will' would give an opportunity to the elderly to opt for 'do not resuscitate', a concept already established in developed nations.
"It is a landmark decision in a resource-constraint country and would save a lot of salvageable patients by giving them opportunity to avail ventilatory support," Dr Chatterjee, who is also joint editor of Indian Academy Geriatrics, said.
Dr R N Tandon, Secretary General of the Indian Medical Association, said, "Just as every person has the right to life, they also have the right to die with dignity."
Dr K K Aggarwal, Vice President of Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania, and former IMA president, however, said strict guidelines should be put in place to ensure that there is no abuse of the 'living will' by relatives of the terminally ill patient.
Dr Anupam Sibal, the Group Medical Director and Senior Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist in Apollo Hospitals Group, said 'living will' or advanced directive (as it is called in some countries) allows a citizen the ability to exercise a fundamental right -- to decide in advance what should be done to his or her body when he or she is not in a position to make that decision.
"This is a step that several countries have taken in the last 10-15 years. The Supreme Court has laid out the framework for a 'living will' and also prescribed the procedure for partial euthanasia which needs to be welcomed. The safeguards that the court has built in should allay fears that some people may have," he said.
Terming the verdict as "unfortunate and condemnable", Kerala Catholic Bishop Conference president Archbishop Soosa Paikam said it was "painful" and would have disastrous consequences.
"The right of life is in the hands of God. It was not acceptable for anyone who believes in humanity to kill a person suffering from old age or sickness due to sympathy," he said in Thiruvananthapuram.
The order that stipulates guidelines to undergo passive euthanasia could be misused, Paikam said.
People suffering from old-age and sickness should be taken care and protected to allow them a natural death, he said.
In Kochi, a senior priest of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church said legal recognition of 'living will' made by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia is against the Indian culture.
Father Paul Thelakkat, editor of the church-run Sathyadeepam magazine, said the church apprehends that the verdict could be misused as a right of dignified killing of terminally ill patients.
"No one has the right to put an end to human life. The ultimate aim of the medical science is to save life from death. If we move away from this principle, there would be far-reaching repercussions in our society," he said.
Virani said she was deeply grateful to the Supreme Court for its verdict.
"This judgement is because of Aruna Shanbaug, who suffered for 42 years. We must say thanks to her," she said.
The legal fraternity said the verdict has brought clarity to doctors, patients and their relatives on what is permitted and what is not.
Noted senior lawyers like Arvind Datar, Colin Gonsalves and advocate Prashant Bhushan said the judgement has "cleared the air" on passive euthanasia which was "long-overdue".