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Report No. 196

Chapter VII

Legal Principles Applicable in India and Position under Indian Penal Code, 1860

As stated in the opening para of Chapter I, this Report is not intended to legalise Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide. This Report refers to a different subject, namely, withholding or withdrawal of life support from competent and incompetent patients who are terminally ill. In the case of competent patients, if they agree for such withholding or withdrawal on the basis of their informed decision and in the case of incompetent patients, if doctors consider it to be in their best interests,- it is lawful for the doctors to withhold or withdraw medical treatment, including artificial nutrition and hydration. Universally, in all countries, such action is treated as lawful and as being different from Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide.

We have stated in Chapter I that in this Report, we do not propose to follow the traditional pattern of preparing a Report, nor the method of presentation that was being followed by other Law Commissions. This, we explained, was because of our desire to furnish as extensive information as possible on the facts of each case medical case where life-support withdrawing or withdrawal became important.

If we should merely refer only to the abstract legal propositions and give citations of relevant case law where some principle is decided by the Courts, then law makers, doctors, hospital authorities, lawyers and Judges would find it difficult to know in what factual background what medical decisions were taken and why such medical decisions were either held valid or invalid by the Courts. The issue being one concerning 'life', serious concerns of human rights of the patient arise. The doctors and hospitals would want to know in what circumstances they might become vulnerable to civil or criminal action. In fact, unless the factual background of each case is fully presented, the Report, if it merely contained legal propositions, would not be of any help.

Therefore, we decided to present a new type of Report where the facts of each case are dealt with in sufficient detail and then the legal principles that are extracted at considerable length in each case. We have done so in the previous chapters. In this Chapter, we shall refer to the important principles laid down in leading cases which, according to us, should be applicable in our country. These can be listed as follows:

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

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