Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
Guidelines on Mercy Killings
The Law Commission had sent 196th Report titled “Medical Treatment to Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) in this regard.
The view of the Ministry was conveyed to Ministry of Law & Justice that Ministry of Health & Family Welfare is not in favour of enacting the Bill due to following reasons:
1. Hippocratic oath is against intentional/voluntary killing of the patient.
2. Progression of medical science to relieve pain, suffering, rehabilitation and treatment of so-called incurable diseases will suffer a setback.
3. An individual may wish to die at a certain point of time, his/her wish may not be persistent and only a fleeting desire out of transient depression.
4. Suffering is a state of mind and a perception, which varies from individual to individual and depends on various environmental and social factors.
5. Continuous advancement in medical science has made possible good pain management in patients of cancer and other terminal illnesses. Similarly, rehabilitation helps many spinal injury patients in leading near normal life and withdrawal of life support may not be required.
6. Wish of withdrawal of life support by a mentally ill patient/in depression may be treatable by good psychiatric care.
7. It will be difficult to quantify suffering which may always be subject to changing social pressures and norms.
8. Can doctors claim to have knowledge and experience to say that the disease is incurable and patient is permanently invalid?
9. Defining of bed-ridden and requiring regular assistance is not always medically possible.
10. There might be psychological pressure and trauma to the medical officers who would be required to conduct withdrawal of life support.
Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in its judgement dated 7.3.2011, dismissing the plea for mercy killings of a Mumbai nurse, Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug, who has been reduced to vegetative state in King Edward Memorial Hospital for past 37 years, laid down comprehensive guidelines to process “passive euthanasia” till Parliament passes a law, while making a clear distinction between “active euthanasia”, which means ending of life of a patient by injecting medication and “passive euthanasia” permitting to withdraw life support to a terminally ill patient.
Thereafter, the matter of mercy killing has been examined further in consultation with Ministry of Law & Justice and it has been held that the Hon’ble Supreme Court has already laid down guidelines in this respect through its judgement delivered in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug’s case which are to be followed in such cases and should, therefore, be treated as law. There is no proposal under consideration at this stage for making law on this subject.
This information was given by Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, in written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha today.