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Report No. 196

Section 164 of the Crime Act, 1961 speaks of 'acceleration of death'. It reads:

"Sec 164: Acceleration of death. Every one who by any act or omission causes the death of another person kills that person, although the effect of the bodily injury caused to that person was merely to hasten his death while labouring under some disorder or disease arising from some other cause."

If the 'cause of death' is not the criminal intent of the doctor but is based on good medical practice and if that is good for section 151, it is also good for section 287164. The withdrawal of support is not an 'unlawful' act for purpose of section 160 in determining whether a homicide is culpable or not. It cannot be regarded as an unlawful act when the doctors concerned are not in breach of duty and have a lawful excuse.

Again, the victim must have, for purpose of section 164, suffered a 'bodily injury' at the hands of the accused. It strains section 164 while applied to a patient already in 'irreversible' condition. A ventilator mechanically ventilates, its withdrawal cannot be treated as inflicting 'bodily injury'.

A doctor who decides to stop the ventilator on the basis of good medical practice cannot be treated as having 'hastened' another's death, where that 'treatment' serves no therapeutic or medical purpose.

The Judge finally granted a declaration and declared that the action did not amount to 'culpable homicide' within sections 151, 164 of the Crimes Act, 1961. He declared:


(i) the doctors responsible for the care of Mr. L, taking into account a responsible body of medical opinion, conclude that there is no reasonable opportunity of Mr. L ever recovering from his present condition;

(ii) there is no therapeutic or medical benefit to be gained by continuing to maintain Mr. L on artificial ventilatory support, and to withdraw that support accords with good medical practice, as recognized and approved within the medical profession; and

(iii) Mrs. L and the ethics committee of the Auckland Area Health Board concur with the decision to withdraw the artificial ventilatory support; then, ss 151 and/or section 164 of the Crimes Act 1961, will not apply, and the withdrawal of the artificial ventilatory support from Mr. L will not constitute culpable homicide for the purposes of that Act. The order prohibiting publication of L's name or any particulars which might lead to his identification, is continued."

The Judge also directed, in his judgment dated 13th Aug. 1992, prohibition of publication of any part of his judgment till 28 Aug., 1992.

We are of the view that these principles must be brought into the proposed draft Bill in India.

Medical Treatment to Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Back

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