Active euthanasia and passive euthanasia


eMediNexus    09 February 2023

Active euthanasia means where death is caused by the administration of a lethal injection or drugs. Active euthanasia also includes physician-assisted suicide, where the injection or drugs are supplied by the physician, but the act of administration is undertaken by the patient himself. Active euthanasia is not permissible in most countries. The jurisdictions in which it is permissible are Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the States of Colorado, Vermont, Montana, California, Oregon and Washington DC in the United States of America.


Passive euthanasia is when medical practitioners do not provide life- sustaining treatment (i.e. treatment necessary to keep a patient alive) or remove patients from life sustaining treatment. This could include disconnecting life support machines or feeding tubes or not carrying out lifesaving operations or providing life extending drugs. In such cases, the omission by the medical practitioner is not treated as the cause of death; instead, the patient is understood to have died because of his underlying condition.


In the matter titled as “Common Cause versus Union of India, 2018 (5) SCC 1” passed by the Hon’ble Constitution Bench of 4 Judges of the Supreme Court of India, has held that:


“(v) There is an inherent difference between active euthanasia and passive euthanasia as the former entails a positive affirmative act, while the latter relates to withdrawal of life support measures or withholding of medical treatment meant for artificially prolonging life.


(vi) In active euthanasia, a specific overt act is done to end the patient‘s life whereas in passive euthanasia, something is not done which is necessary for preserving a patients life. It is due to this difference that most of the countries across the world have legalised passive euthanasia either by legislation or by judicial interpretation with certain conditions and safeguards.”

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