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Govt unlikely to make law on euthanasia issue

New Delhi: Treading cautiously on the sensitive issue, the government is unlikely to make a law on euthanasia even a year after the Supreme Court allowed the High Courts to take a call on withdrawal of life support for patients living in a permanent vegetative state. The Law Ministry had recently made a reference to Law Commission on the issue seeking its response on certain questions. But sources said the Law panel is not too keen to carry out any fresh study on the subject.

The Ministry`s earlier report on the subject six years back has not been implemented. The March 7 judgement last year of the Supreme Court had asked the 21 High Courts to follow certain guidelines before giving a final go-ahead for withdrawal of life support medicines and systems to patients who are brain dead or in a permanently vegetative state. The consent of relatives and the opinion of medical experts has been made necessary.

The apex court had said that its judgement would remain in force until Parliament enacts a law on this issue. Sources said since the issue is very sensitive, the government may not frame any law on the subject for the time being and let the courts to decide in such cases. Framing of a new law would require the involvement of various ministries since any move on euthanasia would have medical, legal and social implications.

After a long internal exercise, the Law Ministry had asked the Law panel whether a standalone law was required for euthanasia or should it amend the Human Organ Transplant Act to incorporate necessary provisions. It had also wanted to know whether the Supreme Court judgement should be treated as law. Active euthanasia is generally referred to a state where a patient is given a lethal injection or through any other method allowed to die in the presence of doctors, while passive euthanasia involves withdrawing the life support system from a patient.

In March, 2006, the Law Commission in its 196th report had submitted a draft `Medical Treatment of Terminally ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006` to the government. The draft bill provides for the protection of patients and medical practitioners from liability in the context of withholding or withdrawing medical treatment, including life support systems, from terminally ill patients.

According to the provisions of the draft bill, every competent patient has a right to take a decision for withholding or withdrawing of medical treatment to himself or herself and to allow nature to take its own course, or for starting or continuing medical treatment to himself or herself. When a patient communicates the decision to the medical practitioner, such decision is binding on the practitioner, provided that the medical practitioner is satisfied that the patient has taken an informed decision based upon his or her free will.

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