Oct 11, 2017 04:17 PM IST | Source:

Mercy killing: Govt readies legislation for passive euthanasia as SC examines living will

The draft Bill outlines the guidelines and framework under passive euthanasia where doctors could withdraw treatment to a terminally-ill patient.

Anupa Kujur @AnupaSagarKujur

After the Supreme Court opposed active euthanasia in India, the Union government on Tuesday outlined a draft Bill to allow passive euthanasia that gives patients the right to withholding or withdrawing medical treatment to herself/himself.

Euthanasia refers to the death of a terminally ill patient that is accelerated by active or passive means to relieve him/her of pain or suffering. It is also known as ‘mercy killing'. Active euthanasia is when a step such as administering a drug is taken to end a person's life, while passive euthanasia is when the person is allowed to die by withholding treatment.

The long-debated concept of euthanasia and living will, which is not allowed in India yet, is currently being deliberated by a five-bench Constitution Bench based on a petition filed by activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, for the NGO Common Cause.

The draft Bill outlines the guidelines and framework under passive euthanasia where doctors could withdraw treatment to a terminally-ill patient.

Here are the highlights of the Bill:

> "Every competent patient including a minor above the age of 16 years, who is terminally ill, has the right to take a decision and express the desire to the medical practitioner attending him/her," reads the draft Bill.

Thus, the Bill provides the right to a terminally ill patient to decide whether or not they want to continue the treatment or allow nature to take its course.

In case of a minor, the consent should also be given by "the major spouse and parents".

> The Directorate General of Health Services, Central Government and Director of Medical Services in each state shall prepare a panel of medical experts for the purpose of this Act.

The Panel will decide whether or not passive euthanasia can be granted to the patient.

> "When a patient communicates her or his decision to the medical practitioner, such decision is binding on the medical practitioner provided the doctor feels the terminally ill patient is making an informed choice," the draft Bill says.

In case the medical practitioner feels that a competent patient has not taken an informed decision or the patient is incompetent to make a decision, a case can be filed in that area's High Court by the patient's relative, friend or the medical practitioner.

In such cases, the High Court is expected to pass a judgment within a month.

> The Bill protects the medical practitioner, as well as the patient, from any criminal or civil liability.

The Medical Council of India may prepare and issue guidelines from time to time to guide medical practitioners in the matter of withholding or withdrawing medical treatment to competent or incompetent patients suffering from terminal illnesses.

> The Bill excludes active euthanasia. It clearly states that the draft Bill "does not recommend Active Euthanasia".

> The draft Bill proposes that if a patient is granted passive euthanasia, a living will of the concerned patient "shall become void and shall not be binding on any medical practitioner".

A living will or Advance Medical Directive is a directive given by a person on whether or not he/she shall be given medical treatment in future when he/she becomes terminally ill.


Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse in KEM Hospital, was left in a vegetative state for 42 years after being raped in 1973. In 2009, author Pinki Virani (who wrote a book on her) filed a petition to allow her to be euthanised.

Following the petition, in March 2011, the Supreme Court in its judgement laid down guidelines to process ‘Passive Euthanasia’ in case of incompetent persons.

Making a distinction between Active and Passive Euthanasia, it said the guidelines should be followed all over India until Parliament passes legislation on the matter.
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