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Justice M.S. Sonak Becomes First in Goa to Register a "Living Will"

By Jhanak Singh      04 June, 2024 11:50 AM      0 Comments
Justice M S Sonak Becomes First in Goa to Register a Living Will

Goa: Justice M. S. Sonak, the senior-most presiding judge of the Bombay High Court at Goa, made history by becoming the first person in the state to register a "living will" or advance medical directive. This milestone event took place during a program organized by the Goa branch of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and the Goa State Legal Services Authority (GSLSA) to release a booklet on Advanced Medical Directives (AMD). Goa has become the first state in India to operationalize such directives.

A living will, also known as an advance directive, is a legal document that allows individuals with declining health or terminal illnesses to specify their medical treatment preferences in advance. This directive enables them to express their wishes regarding life-sustaining treatments, such as the use of life support, in case they become unable to communicate due to a vegetative state or other incapacitating conditions.

Justice M. S. Sonak, who serves on the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court, registered his living will on Friday, becoming the first person in Goa to do so. "This is a momentous occasion. We are all extremely busy living our lives, and that gives us hardly any time to contemplate end-of-life issues...which are inevitable, and for which we must start preparing a little early," Justice Sonak said at the event organized by the IMA Goa branch and GSLSA.

In 2018, the Supreme Court of India legalized passive euthanasia, contingent upon the individual having a living will. The Supreme Court recognized the living wills of terminally ill patients who could go into a permanent vegetative state and issued guidelines to regulate the procedure. In 2023, the Supreme Court eased the process for passive euthanasia by modifying certain existing guidelines for living wills. "Goa is the first state that has formalized, to some extent, the implementation of directives issued by the Supreme Court. This is a beginning and there will be some teething issues, which shall be overcome. A first step in the correct direction has been taken," Justice Sonak remarked during the event, which also saw the release of a booklet on advance medical directives.

Officials noted that Goa is the first state to implement and operationalize advance medical directives. According to the guidelines, a person who wishes to create a living will must draft it in the presence of two witnesses. The will then needs to be certified by a gazetted officer or notary and forwarded to the main Mamlatdar of the taluka, who will send it to the nodal officer appointed by the District Collector for safe custody.

Dr. Shekhar Salkar, an oncosurgeon and former chairman of the Goa Medical Council, shared a personal story during the event. "Today is an emotional day for me. My father died in March 2007. He was put on a ventilator twice. When he was about to be put on a ventilator for the third time, I thought it was unlikely to be of any benefit to him. I had to make a decision. So, I consulted with my siblings and explained to them that it would be better that we take him home. I feel it was the best decision I could have taken at that time. He passed away at home after three days...he breathed his last in my arms. His peaceful exit was very important."

Dr. Sandesh Chodankar, president of the IMA's Goa branch, highlighted the efforts behind the operationalization of advance medical directives. "Preliminary discussions for the operationalization of advance medical directives were held in February, and within a short period and with support from the High Court of Bombay at Goa and the GSLSA, the mechanism for implementation has been put in place," he said.

This event marks a significant step towards ensuring that individuals in Goa can make informed decisions about their end-of-life care, respecting their wishes and dignity.

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