India forms panel on euthanasia law

The union government of India has formed an expert committee to make suggestions for creating a law permitting the death of persons under special circumstances on compassionate grounds.

The practice, called euthanasia or mercy killing, is illegal in most countries.

The Law Commission of India had, in 2006, drawn up a law that would have allowed for the withdrawal of treatment services to terminally ill patients under special circumstances, but the law was not tabled in the parliament.

In 2013, the government had tried to come up with a law, but again dropped the proposal, pointing out that a Supreme Court Judgment of 2011 laid down detailed procedures and criteria to be observed for withdrawal of life-support systems. The 2011 judgment allowed for such an option only if the patient was either brain-dead or in a permanent vegetative state.

In March 2018, Supreme Court of India modified existing provisions to allow for the withdrawal of treatment and life-support systems for patients in a permanent vegetative state, giving legal status to what is called a ‘living will’ that any person can create during his or her lifetime.

Such “living wills” can state that the person should be allowed to die through the withdrawal of life-support systems, food or treatment if that person ends up suffering from a terminal illness or is in a vegetative state.

In between, various courts have rejected ‘active euthanasia’, where a person or his/her relatives seek permission to end someone’s life on compassionate grounds through means such as lethal injections, rather than the withdrawal of treatment and/or food.

Painless death through such injections is legal some countries like Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as in the US states of Washington and Oregon. However, any form of active euthanasia is illegal in India.

As such, India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has again formed an ‘expert committee’ to look into the issue of euthanasia and make suggestion for legal reforms.

In a recent statement, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, said the committee has not submitted its recommendations, and that further actions would depend on these.

“The Expert Committee constituted under Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to discuss the issue of enabling legislation to regulate Euthanasia in the country has not yet submitted its recommendation to the Government. Further action depends on the recommendation of the Committee,” it said.