Jus Rerum 2020-12-10: 8 Min

Right to Life: Does it Include Right to Die?

Author: Krishna Singh Rajpoot

Student of Indore Institute of Law, Indore

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Article 21 of the constitution states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law[1]. Often many have the confusion regarding the concept of a right to life that it includes the right to die. The term’ Life’ under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution does not mean only a mere animal existence, rather it means the right to life with human dignity, right to privacy, right to livelihood, right to compensation etc. It ensures all advantages and benefits that will make life better or agreeable. However, in the present context, the Court recognized the Passive Euthanasia, not an Active Euthanasia. At present, most of the youngsters falling in love or due to some other activities they try to commit suicide. This context also gains the limelight during the Sushant Singh Rajpoot suicide case. 

The Supreme Court described it as the heart of the Indian Constitution. There are different case laws which show that the right to life does not include the right to die. In State of Maharashtra V. Maruty sripati Dubal[2] The question whether the right to life includes the right to die under article 21 of the constitution. In this case, the Bombay Police Constable was mentally deranged and was refused permission to set up a shop and earn a living. Out of frustration, he tried to set himself afire in the corporation’s office room and police charged him for an attempt to suicide. The Bombay High court held that the right to life guaranteed under article 21 of the constitution includes right to die, and consequently, the Court struck down the section 309 of Indian Penal Code[3] which provides punishment for attempt to commit suicide by a person as unconstitutional.

However, this was overruled by the Andhra Pradesh high court in Chenna Jagadeeshwar v. State of Andhra Pradesh[4] and held that the right to die is not a fundamental right within the meaning of article 21 and hence section 309 of Indian Penal Code is not unconstitutional.  This judgment by the Supreme Court was somehow successful in putting the restrictions over the unlawful activities done by the relatives and doctors. But in P. Rathinam v. Union of India[5], a two-judge Division Bench of the Supreme Court took cognizance of the contradiction between Sec. 309, I.P.C., and Art. 21. The Court supported the decision of the High Court of Bombay in Maruti Sripati Dubal’s Case held that the right to life embodies in Art. 21 also contains in it a right not to live a forced life, to his detriment, disadvantage or disliking which will suffer him in whole life.

The court argued that the word life in Art. 21 means right to live with human dignity and the same does not merely connote continued drudgery. Thus, the court concluded that the right to live of which Art. 21 speaks of can be said to bring in its trail the right not to live a forced life. The court further emphasized that “attempt to commit suicide is in reality a cry for held and not for punishment.” However, the Court rejected the plea that euthanasia (mercy killing) should be permitted by law.

This judgment by the supreme court somehow allowed suicide and give the way head but what about its effect on the young immature minds which tend to act or react in desperate haste? Again suicide in owing to frustration in love, failure in examinations and failure to get a job or even a good job or promotions in service would raise different problems. So now the question arises: Is Individual capable of taking a decision to end his life in such conditions? Does he not owe a responsibility towards society to live for them? 

The court in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab[6] Overruled the P. Rathinam's case and held that the right to life under article 21 of the constitution does not include right to die or right to be killed. The Court stated that "The right to die", is inherently inconsistent with the right to life as is "death with life."[7] The one argument was raised that it was a violation of article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The court said that there was no sufficient ground that can prove that it was violative of article 14 and 21 of the constitution. The main case, which often confuses the people is that the euthanasia case. In Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaugh v. Union of India[8], a writ petition was filed by Ms. Pinki Virani of Mumbai claiming to be the next friend of the victim with a prayer for direction to let her friend die peacefully as she has remained stable for many years. The victim who was a staff nurse in King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai was attacked by a sweeper of a hospital by wrapping a dog chain around her neck and raped her. The victim remained unconscious due to brain injury. The incident had occurred about 36 years of her age and till the judgment of the Court, she was 60 years old.

The Court led down the law of passive euthanasia to continue till the law made by the parliament, were as follows -:

The Court made it a clear distinction between the active euthanasia and passive euthanasia. The people of the country must not confuse between the passive euthanasia as it indicates that no doing necessary to preserve the life whereas active euthanasia indicates an attempt to end the life of the patient.

The right to life does not include the right to die under article 21 of the constitution as no law has been made by the parliament of the country in this respect. It is a punishable offence under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.


End Notes

  1. The Constitution of India, 1950, article 21

  2. State of Maharashtra V.  Maruty Sripati Dubal,  AIR 1997 SC411(INDIA)

  3. Indian Penal Code, no. 45 of 1860, India Code section 309

  4. Chenna Jagadeeshwar v. State of Andhra Pradesh AIR 1988 CrLJ 549 (INDIA)

  5. P. Rathinam v. Union of India[1] 1994 3 SCC 394(INDIA)

  6. Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab 1996 2 SCC 648 (INDIA)

  7. Ibid

  8. Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaugh v. Union of India AIR 2011 SC 1290 (INDIA)


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