Right To Die With Dignity – A Fundamental Right


Epicurus, the Greek philosopher understood death and summed up the entire process of death in a certain stanza.

He said,

     “Why should I fear death?

        If I am, then death is not.

        If death is, then I am not.

        Why should I fear that which

        Can only exist when I do not?”

The same prologue was given by the Chief Justice in the court which highlights the entire underlying theme of Euthanasia that revolves around the fight to have “right to die with dignity”. The recent judgement pronounced by the Hon’ble court in regard to euthanasia is the case of Common Cause (registered society) v. Union of India 2018. The judgement delivered by the constitutional bench of 5 judges propounded that right to live with dignity also includes smoothening of the process of dying in case of terminally ill patient or person in vegetative state with no hope of recovery. The basic analysis of the decisions of the Supreme Court emanates judgements given in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab 1996 and Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India and Ors 2011, in Gian Kaur case, the bench held that the ‘right to life’ is a a natural right embodied in Article 21 of Indian Constitution but suicide is an unnatural termination of life, which is incompatible to the concept of right to life. The bench also clarified that the right to die with dignity is not to be confused with right to die of an unnatural death curtailing the natural span of life.

Relying on Gian Kaur case, a two judge bench of Supreme Court in Aruna Shanbaug case upheld the validity of passive euthanasia which entails withdrawing life support measures or medical treatment for no positive act is required. Thus the court clears the confusion that Article 21 only covers within its ambit only passive euthanasia and not active euthanasia. They permitted “living will” of patients on withdrawing medical support if they slip into irreversible coma.

In Common Cause case, this was a plea filed by NGO Common Cause that a person who is inflicted with a terminal disease should be given relief from agony by withdrawing artificial support system provided to him which is medically referred to as passive euthanasia.

The court also laid down the principles relating to the procedure for execution of Advance Directive and provided to give effect to passive euthanasia in both circumstances, namely where there are advance directives and where there are none, in exercise of power under Article 140 of Indian Constitution and the law stated in Vishakha v State of Rajaswthan and Ors.

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