Is there anything such as a Right to Die?

Right to die (also referred to as Euthanasia) is the premature ending of the life of a suffering person.

Euthanasia encompasses various dimensions, from active (introducing something to cause death) to passive (withholding treatment or supportive measures); voluntary (consent) to involuntary (consent from guardian) and physician assisted (where physician’s prescribe the medicine and patient or the third party administers the medication to cause death). (Source)

The problem with ‘right to die’ is that it has assumed added importance because of the rapid rise in suicide rate (See, Every hour, one student commits suicide in IndiaHindustan Times). The Constitution of India guarantees right to life but there is no provision of a Right to die, on the contrary, if any person tries to end his life, he is held liable for an attempt to commit suicide under the provision of Indian Penal Code (IPC)!

The overstretching debate on the right to die encompass various distinct views. Let’s analyse!

Legislative provision:

In India euthanasia is considered as a crime even though there is no clear provision with respect to it. It is generally accepted that it is covered under Sections 306 IPC which deals with an attempt to commit suicide; 309 of IPC which deals with abetment of suicide; and under exception (5) of Section 300 of IPC i.e. death by consent. Therefore, as per the bare provision, the patient who wishes to take the recourse of euthanasia and the doctor who performs euthanasia on such request, both are liable to be punished.

A logical view:

Our fundamental rights enshrined under Part III of the Constitution have positive as well as negative aspects. For example – freedom of speech and expression include the freedom not to speak, similarly, the freedom of association, include the freedom not to join any association, similarly right to religion includes right not have any religion.

Therefore, logically arguing, the right to life should very well include the right to die.

The Constitutional view:

Article 21 is a positive provision which guarantees the protection of life and personal liberty. Right to life and right to die are two opposite ends, which cannot, exist together. They are so diametrically opposed to each other as life and death itself. There is no similarity, consistency, and compatibility with the other fundamental rights e.g. freedom of speech and expression. Any aspect of life which makes it dignified may be read into it but not that which extinguishes it and is, therefore inconsistent with the continued existence of life resulting in effecting the right itself.

The “right to die” is inherently inconsistent with the “right to life.”

A spiritual view:

Euthanasia was not opposed in the Vedic Era. In India, the concept of voluntary death is not alien and people used to, perhaps till date also, take Jal Samadhi and Bhoomi Smadhi to make their Lord happy through tapasya. It is evident that right to life under Article 21 speaks of bringing under its umbrella the right to live a forced life.

It is a cruel and irrational provision and it results in punishing a person again after he has suffered agony and wound. Such a person might be undergoing ignominy because of his failure to commit suicide. In such a case, an act of suicide or the right to die cannot be said to be against religion, morality or even public policy and such an act cannot have a baneful effect on society.

Judiciary on the Right to Die

In India, there is no law which approves or disapprove euthanasia. However, Section 309 IPC penalizes the attempt to commit suicide with simple imprisonment for a term of up to one year or a fine or both. Abetment of suicide also invites severe legal action under Section 306 IPC.

The constitutionality of these provisions has been questioned many times, as being contrary to Article 21 of the Constitution, and various High Courts have given conflicting decisions. In Maruti Shripathi Dubal vs. State of Maharashtra [(1986) 88 BOMLR 589], the Bombay High Court struck down Section 309 as being violative of the Article 21. On the other hand, the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Chenna Jagadeeshwar vs. The State of A.P. [1988 Cri LJ 549] held that the right to die is not a fundamental right within the purview of Article 21 and hence, Section 309 is not unconstitutional. In Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab [(1996) 2 SCC 649], a Constitutional Bench held that ‘right to life’ does not include ‘right to die’ thereby upholding the validity of Section 309. Recently, in Aruna Shanbhaug case, the Supreme Court, while dismissing the writ petition praying euthanasia of the petitioner Aruna Shanbhaug, held that ‘passive euthanasia’ may be permissible in exceptional cases.

As an epilogue, I leave you with the following thought:

You choose your country, you choose your spouse, you choose your profession, you choose where you want to live. Die you must, but how to die and when to die, should this be a matter of choice? It is not barbaric and cruel to a person who fails to extinguish his more miserable than death life by putting him in prison? If the state cannot provide a person with humane living conditions, can it be just in retrenching his right to die? One argument is that life is a gift of God and no one has the right to take away – when one cannot create, one has no right to destroy.

This post has been contributed by Lalita Sharma, a 4th-year student pursuing B.A. LL.B. at Bahra University, Shimla Hills, Himachal Pradesh. 

This post has been internally copy-edited by L&P editorial team. Views expressed herein are that of the author.

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L&P Editorial Team

The Law & Practice Blog's editorial team.

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