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P Rathinam Vs Union Of India – Case Analysis

Introduction

The Constitution of India guaranteed the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Right to life is interpreted in diverse perspectives and means life with dignity and not mere animal existence. On the other hand, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution does not include the right to die and does not encourage people to kill themselves considering the right to die as a fundamental right of the citizen.

Facts of P Rathinam Vs Union Of India Case

Rathinam and Nagbhushan Patnaik[1] had filed in the Supreme Court of India challenging the validity of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It was the first case in which the Supreme Court decided on the matters of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized the attempt to commit suicide. The provision in Section 309 has been criticized and called a draconian law that penalizes an individual being terminally ill. It is the only section in the Indian Penal Code that penalized a person for an unsuccessful attempt to commit an offense. The provision has been challenged on the grounds of inhumane treatment of terminally ill patients who attempt to commit suicide. When these people failed to commit suicide, they were charged under Section 309 of IPC, 1860 with imprisonment, fine, or both. It is unjust for a mentally distressed person who needs urgent medical treatment to label them as an offender and locked in prison to suffer agony with criminals.

There is another objection against Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code that Article 21 guarantees the individual right to life and personal liberty and why it shall not be guaranteed the right to die as a fundamental right. Every person has an objective in life and when that objective had achieved. An individual is entitled to end one’s life without bothering about the consequences if they survived the act of killing himself. As a result, Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code causes further agony to the people who attempt to commit suicide shall be declared unconstitutional and void in the first place as it is against Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Right To Life And Right To Die

The objective behind guaranteeing a person’s right to life and criminalizing suicides is to discourage them from committing those acts which lead to the end of one’s precious life. The state shall also respect the life of individuals and their contribution to society. The state does not want their valuable assets that are their citizens shall end up their precious lives because of temporary distress and mental agony. We shall not compare Article 19 of the Indian Constitution to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Article 19 ensures the right to speak and the right to not speak shall not align with Article 21 of the Indian Constitution to ensure that citizens shall not be deprived of the right to life but does not guarantee a right to die[2].

The right to die also resulted in cases where people could easily escape from the prosecution for the offense of abetment to suicide under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. They can avoid prosecution by taking a defense that they were merely accommodating in the enforcement of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, including the right to die[3] by abetting a person to suicide. It is obvious that if the right to die associated with Article 21 under part III of the Indian Constitution shall create havoc in the society and criminals become scot-free. It is noted that the right to die in pain is a reasonable restriction in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. The terminally ill patients undergo severe physically and mentally without any improvement in their health to offer them relief from all the mental and physical suffering by killing them peacefully. This act of mercy killing is known as euthanasia[4].

Euthanasia is permissible in law with the required permission of the patient or a relative of the patient when the patient is not in a condition to give voluntary consent. There is a distinction between Suicide which is unlawful and Euthanasia which is permissible in law. Euthanasia is the process of killing someone who is suffering from severe physical pain, agony, and lost of the spirit to live their life. A terminally ill patient is living in an unbearable condition of life making it painful with the passing days. Citizens bounded by their duties and they are not permitted to escape from those duties by killing themselves. Suicides occur at all ages & it is required to deal with the issue through consultation with your family, friends and doctors who can help the individual suffering from agony. Suicide is against the principles of morality, it is an act against religion, produces a devastating effect on society, and is against public policy.

Judgment of P Rathinam Vs Union Of India Case

The Supreme Court of India Decriminalizes Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 because penalizing a person who is already suffering from mental health issues amounts to the inhumane treatment of the individual and resulted in double punishment. On the contrary, victims of suicide attempts shall be taken under medical supervision by a psychologist or Psychiatrist. The patients shall also provide required medical attention. The court decided cautiously that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code shall not violate the principle of morality, religion, or public policy.

Further, a person who attempts to commit suicide is never found to commit any harm to any other individual except oneself. It is arbitrary to punish an individual twice who has already suffered agony by penalizing the same person with imprisonment or a fine. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code is unconstitutional and void because of the four ingredients required to commit an offense. Firstly, men’s rea or bad faith is difficult to determine in the cases of suicide. Secondly, temporary insanity is the ultimate cause of suicide. Insanity is a valid defense even in the offense of culpable homicide and murder. Thirdly, individuals driven to suicide needed medical attention to recover from the trauma. Lastly, there is no black and white definition for suicide a person can commit suicide by handing, administering poison, overdosing on drugs, or some other ways.

After the landmark judgement of P Rathinam Vs Union Of India, there were several instances where the question of decriminalizing attempts to suicide came into the picture. In 1996, in the case of Gian Kaur V. State of Punjab, the accused Gian Kaur and her husband Harbans Kaur have taken a plea that they are abetting the petitioner to suicide merely to accommodate the enforcement of fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The five-judge bench of the Supreme Court overruled the P Rathinam Vs Union Of India Judgement and convicted the accused of abetment of suicide under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for six years of imprisonment and Rs 2000 fine.

The 196th Law Commission Report on Euthanasia, 2006 recommended that the law should protect the terminally ill patient who refuses to administer medicine and treatment from Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The doctors who decided in the best interest of their incompetent patients by offering them euthanasia shall be protected from the prosecution under Section 306 for abetment of suicide and 299 for the culpable homicide of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It was highlighted that patients suffering from terminal illness undergo severe pain, agony and physical suffering. Untimely death will surely be caused by terminally ill patients & doctors have no hope left to save patients’ lives.

In 2008, the 210th Law Commission Report found that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is inhumane to the accused of the suicide attempt. It was found that people commit suicide due to temporary mental illness, desertion from their partners, or sudden misfortunate incidents. These situations are worst but not permanent people can come out of such misfortunes and get back to life. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 does not penalize an individual for committing suicide but for surviving the action of suicide taken by an individual. When they were not in a rational state of mind to realise the consequences of their actions and before they realized their faults, they found themselves behind bars. It was observed that suicide victims need medical attention rather than awarding them with imprisonment.

In the year 2011, in the case of Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug V. Union of India, Ms. Aruna filed a petition in the Supreme Court to direct the hospital to stop feeding her and allow her to die peacefully. She put up with Persistent Vegetative State since she was assaulted sexually in 1973. The court assigned a team of doctors to examine the condition of Ms. Aruna and report her mental and physical state to the court. The court does not allow to disable the support system but allows passive euthanasia by invoking the principle of Parens Patriae where the court can serve as a guardian. The court has decided in the best interest of the patient.

Conclusion

The act of attempting to commit suicide is immoral and unworthy of human society. It is unjust to end one’s life just for temporary insanity. Life is a precious gift of God and one should not waste it on useless things. It suggested avoiding taking such steps that lead to unliquidated damages for a short-term mental health issue that leads a person to give up on their life without exhausting other alternative methods that overcome mental and physical distress.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Article 14 of the Indian Constitution?

Article 14 of the Indian constitution stated that the state shall not deny equality before the law and equal protection of law within the territory of India.

What is Article 21 of the Indian constitution?

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution ensures the right to life & personal liberty. Everyone has the right to live dignified life & not mere animal existence. Article 21 applies to citizens and foreigners but not an alien enemy.

Who is the alien enemy?

An alien enemy is a person who deserted his country in a time of crisis by joining an enemy country. They have limited rights in the country compared to citizens & foreign nationalists.

Is Section 309 still a Criminal Offense in 2022?

No, section 309 of the Indian Penal Code declared against article 21of the constitution of India by the Supreme Court of India & that there is no imprisonment for an attempt to commit suicide.

Does the decriminalization of Section 309 mean individuals have the Fundamental Right to die?

No, there is no existing right to die in the Indian Constitution or anywhere else. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was decriminalized to protect the interest of the individual who attempted to commit suicide & offer them medical assistance rather than imprisonment.

[1] P Rathinam Vs Union Of India on 26 April, 1994 AIR 1844, 1994 SCC (3) 394, 20 MAY 2022

[2] Right to die court review, SCO, 20 MAY 2022, Right to Die: Court in Review – Supreme Court Observer (scobserver.in)

[3] Whether right to life includes right to die, legal service India, 20 MAY 2022, Whether Right To Life Include Right To Die (legalservicesindia.com)

[4] What is euthanasia, 20 May 2022, euthanasia | Definition, History, & Facts | Britannica

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Prashant Sharma

Prashant Sharma is a law student at Government Law College, Mumbai. He secured AIR 46 in MHCET 2021. He used to write content based on legal issues, social issues, economic aspects, current issues, maritime industries, technology and other related topics.


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