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Report No. 196

Withdrawal of life support is different from Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide:

One of the first things that has to be taken note of is that 'withdrawal of life support' to patients is totally different from Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.

The subject of withdrawal of life support to patients who are in a critical stage or under coma for long periods has attracted the attention of the law makers in various countries. There are statutes in some countries, and also guidelines issued by several Medical Councils and a large number of decisions of the Courts. There is a vast literature on the subject including Reports of several Law Commissions.

It is the position today in our country that attempt to commit suicide is an offence under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code and abetment of suicide is also an offence as per section 306. The word 'Abetment' is independently defined under section 107 of the Penal Code.

'Euthanasia' is the act of killing someone painlessly, especially, for relieving suffering of a person from incurable illness. It is also called 'mercy-killing'.

'Assisted suicide' is where a doctor assists a patient by giving him medicines at the request of a patient who is unable to withstand pain, for enabling the patient to bring his life to an end.

In our country, and in several countries (with very few exceptions), 'Euthanasia' and 'Assisted Suicide' are offences.

In this Report, we are of the view that 'Euthanasia' and 'Assisted Suicide' must continue to be offences under our law. The scope of the inquiry is, therefore, confined to examining the various legal concepts applicable to 'withdrawal of life support measures' and to suggest the manner and circumstances in which the medical profession could take decisions for withdrawal of life support if it was in the 'best interests' of the patient. Further, question arises as to in what circumstances a patient can refuse to take treatment and ask for withdrawal or withholding of life support measure, if it is an informed decision.

In that context, it will also become necessary to propose sufficient safeguards to the 'patient' so that the procedure proposed for doctors arriving at a decision for withdrawal of life support measures is not misused or abused by any body, including the patient, the relatives of the patient or the doctors or the hospitals where the patient is under treatment.

The Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine has already come forward with several guidelines for the use of the medical profession. It appears that the Medical Council of India has not so far framed any guidelines.

The Law Commission in its 42 nd Report recommended the deletion of section 309 of the Penal Code which makes the 'attempt to commit suicide' an offence. We make it clear that we are not concerned with that issue in this Report but we are concerned only with 'withdrawal of life support' to dying patients.



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




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