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Report No. 196

Assisted suicide permitted in Oregon:

Oregon in USA passed the Death With Dignity Act, 1994 by which it legalized 'assisted suicide'. A patient could request for a prescription from an attending physician that the patient has an incurable and irreversible disease and that he may die in six months, within reasonable medical judgment. The request must be voluntary. The patients could be referred to counseling also. A second consulting physician must examine and confirm the attending physician's conclusions. The doctors will then prescribe a lethal dose of medicine. Assisted Suicide is also legalized in Netherlands, as stated earlier.

Barring then a few countries or States, there is clear jurisprudence that euthanasia or assisted suicide is not permissible in almost all countries.

In some countries like UK, attempt to suicide has been decriminalized but abetment of suicide remains an offence. In India, attempt to suicide and abetment of suicide are both offences under ss 309 and 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 respectively

(C) Withdrawal of Life support systems is not an offence under certain circumstances

As stated in Chapter 1, and in this Chapter, 'withdrawal of life support systems' is different for 'Euthanasia' or 'Assisted Suicide', we have already stated that with advances in science and technology, it is possible to prolong life by use of ventilator and artificial nutrition. In the case of patients with serious diseases or in last stages of a disease, where a body of medical experts is of opinion that the prolongation of life serves no purpose and there are no chances of recovery, the doctors have no duty in law to merely prolong life.

This principle is now accepted in all countries as part of the common law. If, in such cases, the treatment is withheld or withdrawn, and the patient is left to nature or the body is left to nature, there is no criminal or civil liability in as much as there is no 'duty' in common law, to keep a person alive if informed medical opinion is that there are absolutely no chances of survival.

Withholding or withdrawing life support is today permitted in most countries, in certain circumstances, on the ground that it is lawful for the doctors or hospitals to do so. Courts in several countries grant declarations in individual cases that such withholding or withdrawal is lawful. The various principles governing withdrawal or withholding life support systems will be discussed under the various headings herein below.

Our Supreme Court in Gian Kaur's case 1996 (2) SCC 648 clearly held that euthanasia and assisted suicide are not lawful in our country. The court, however, referred to the principles laid down by the House of Lords in Airedale 1993(1) All ER 821 (HL) where the House of Lords accepted that withdrawal of life supporting systems on the basis of informed medical opinion, would be lawful because such withdrawal would only allow the patient who is beyond recovery to die a normal death, where there is no longer any duty to prolong life.

Thus, it is accepted that this is different from euthanasia and assisted suicide. It is not necessary to expressly provide in the proposed Bill that Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide are not lawful because that is the law, as settled by the Supreme Court in Gian Kaur.

But, it is necessary to make a provision that withholding life support system in terminally ill patients will be treated as 'lawful'.

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

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