Is Right To Die A Fundamental Right Under Indian Constitution? Explain

What is Right to Die?

Right to die can be explained as a right provided to an individual to decide end one’s own life when the individual can no longer enjoy the basic elements of a normal life. The right to die focuses on the fact that even though one has the right to live and death not being natural still a hopeless, meaningless and painful existence cannot be forced on any individual. The basic things in favour of Right to Die include the fact that people have right to their dignity and die with it intact, relief from their suffering, loss of their personal autonomy and their loss of ability to enjoy life.

Situation around the world

Netherland became the first country to legalise Euthanasia in 2002 through the ‘Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act’. Netherland was followed by Belgium, Germany and Switzerland also allow assisted suicide under certain circumstances. In both of these countries, the lethal drug has to be taken without any help, such as someone guiding or supporting the patient’s hand. Also, in Switzerland, they have organizations which not only provide these services to people of Switzerland but are also authorized to provide these services to people from other countries.

Situation in India

The case of Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra (1986) 88 BOMLR 589 served as the first case as to the right to die in India. The bench, in this case, decided to abolish section 309 and considered it ultra vires to Article 14 and Article 21. In the case of State v. Sanjay Kumar Bhatia 1986 (10) DRJ 31 the bench in charge acquitted a suicide victim while again laying down emphasis to strike out section 309 of the Indian Constitution. Both of these cases laid down a strong base against section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.

In the case, P. Rathinam v. Union of India 1994 SCC (3) 394, P. Rathinam and another filed a petition challenging the constitutional validity of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. The two-judge bench of Justice Hansaria and Justice Sahai gave their verdict against section 309 expressing that to punish someone who has already been punished before is morally and ethically wrong. The court expressed that the right to life as given in Article 21 of the constitution also includes the ‘right not to live’ as no one can be forced to live a life, not to their liking.

The most influential judgement related to the right to die came in the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India and others. In this case, Aruna Shanbaug as a result of an assault was left in a vegetative state for the rest of her life. Later social activist Pinki Virani filed a writ petition seeking to end the life of Ms. Shanbaug. The execution of Ms. Shanbaug was not allowed as Ms. Virani was not considered close enough to Ms. Shanbaug to ask for such a plea. But in this case, the Supreme Court gave the landmark judgement establishing the basic principles of the right to die in India. The decision aimed towards legalizing passive euthanasia and also laid down several guidelines for its execution. The court also held that such a thing could only be executed only after seeking approval from the High Court.

In the 196th Law Commission report on ‘MEDICAL TREATMENT TO TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS (PROTECTION OF PATIENTS AND MEDICAL PRACTITIONERS)’, recommended the drafting of an Act to protect patients and their doctors from prosecution and also placed importance on the Medical Council of India in case of assisted suicide. The Medical Treatment of Terminally ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006 was also proposed for these very purposes.

In the 210th Law Commission Report it was stated that ‘when a troubled individual tries to end his life, it would be cruel and irrational to visit him with punishment on his failure to die’. The report characterized section 309 as inhumane and recommended for it to be repealed.

The 241st Law Commission report proposed a revised version of the Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners Bill. This bill seeks to provide the right to die to anyone above the age of 16. It also makes it necessary to take prior permission of the High Court before the compulsory and essential medical treatment is withdrawn. This bill also forms a committee to assist the High Court in decision making and also includes several other new provisions.

The Right to Die under its current circumstances is prevalent in our country with severe restrictions and even then only passive euthanasia being allowed and active euthanasia still considered unlawful. Under the current interpretation of law, the right to die is considered as a part of the right to life. The Right to Die is also prevalent in India with severe restrictions with only passive euthanasia being allowed and active euthanasia still considered unlawful, So according to all of this, it can be concluded that Right to Die in India is not a Fundamental Right in India.

Jishnu Adhikari

Central University of South Bihar

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