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Medical body defines passive euthanasia to avoid misinterpretation

mumbai Updated: Mar 13, 2018 09:56 IST
Aayushi Pratap
Aayushi Pratap
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Supreme Court,passive euthanasia

The Supreme Court legalised ‘passive euthanasia’ and creation of living wills three days ago. (HT file )

Three days after the Supreme Court legalised ‘passive euthanasia’ and creation of living wills, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)  released a document explaining terms and rules relating to end-of-life care.

ICMR, the apex body in India for formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, said it was important to define the terms as they are often misinterpreted by the people and even health care practitioners.

“The document draws the difference between terms withdrawal, withholding of treatment and passive euthanasia. The word euthanasia suggests ‘an intention to kill’, whereas withdrawal and withholding of treatment are more neutral terms and the two must not be used interchangeably,” Roli Mathur, head of ICMR’s bioethics unit, who headed the panel that drafted the document.

In the document, euthanasia is defined as ‘the intentional act of killing a dying patient with terminal illness by the direct intervention of a doctor ‘for the purpose of good of the patient’. It clarifies that allowing natural death by withholding and withdrawing life sustaining treatment to limit harm and suffering in a dying patient should not be construed as euthanasia.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, former director-general of ICMR, wrote there was an urgent need to bring the terminology to current worldwide consensus to overcome confusion regarding understanding of the terms used in end-of-life care. The draft of the terminology, written by a team of specialists comprising neurologists and critical care experts, was put on ICMR website for public comments for six months before it was released.

While the SC order has used the word ‘passive euthanasia’ in the judgement copy, experts who drafted the document said it was used in the wrong context. “The word euthanasia is no longer used in the professional guidelines relating to end-of-life care in developed countries,” he added.

Dr Roop Gursahani, a neurologist at PD Hinduja and Research Centre, who is part of a group advocating for living wills and was part of he team that drafted of the document, said the word euthanasia is an obsolete term.

“In India, euthanasia is used as a blanket term, not separating it from various choices individuals have as part of end-of-life care. The document aims at make a distinction of all terms related to end of life,” he said.

First Published: Mar 13, 2018 09:56 IST