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Insurance for passive euthanasia: Companies differ on applicability

M Saraswathy
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M Saraswathy

Moneycontrol News

In March 2018, the Supreme Court recognised the right of a person to die with dignity. The apex court allowed individuals to execute a ‘living will,’ and permitted them to refuse medical treatment if they contract a terminal illness. However, insurance companies are yet to take a call on whether such person(s) will be eligible for compensation under a policy.

“We are in consultation with our legal team to see if euthanasia could be considered under a pure term insurance product,” said a senior executive of a private life insurance company. Insurance is not available for pre-planned incidents like suicide.

After buying a life insurance product in India, if a policyholder commits suicide within 12 months, the death claim is not payable. General insurers do not pay for suicide.

Two months ago, a Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, upheld that the fundamental right to life and dignity includes right to refuse treatment and die with dignity. The apex court had said that advance directives for terminally-ill patients could be issued and executed by the next friend and relatives of such person after which a medical board would consider it.

The court has also laid down guidelines for who can execute the will and under what circumstances will euthanasia be allowed. Unlike active euthanasia where a lethal drug is administered, passive euthanasia is where medical service is denied leading to death for terminally-ill patients.

In several countries of Europe and parts of the US where assisted suicide and euthanasia is legal, life insurance companies pay death claims if it occurs after the initial exclusion period that could range from 12-24 months. However, general insurers do not pay death claims and may bear some of the medical expenses, depending on the individual policyholder.

“In medical insurance, we exclude suicide from coverage. So euthanasia will also not be covered,” said Sanjay Datta, chief-underwriting & claims, ICICI Lombard General Insurance.

Meanwhile, the insurance regulator may also bring out appropriate norms stating some of the best practices from across the world as well as give a broad guideline to insurers on what stance they could take.

“Multiple medical opinions will have to be taken for passive euthanasia. However, we are awaiting clarity on whether assisted death could be admissible or not. If it is, then it will be built into the pricing,” said the appointed actuary of a mid-size private life insurer.

In most markets, there is no law mandating insurers to pay families for euthanasia related claims. However, courts take a view on a case-by-case basis.