Right To Life Includes Right To Die


“One short sleep past, we take eternally, and death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die”. – John Donne.

Life and death are two entirely different concepts which have attracted the attention of many different scholars, thinkers, philosophers and writers to define and describe them. Many attempts have been made or undertaken to gloriously paint the picture of life under the same colour and shadow.

Swami Vivekananda gave his views on life and death with the opinion that, “Life is the lamp which is constantly burning out and further suggested that if one wants to have life, one has died every moment for it”. The ancient Greek Philosopher, Epicurus described the concept of life and death in the following words, “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?” Therefore it can be said that life sans dignity is an unacceptable defeat and life that finally meets death with dignity is a value to aspire for a moment for celebration. Every person shall have the right to live with dignity as well as the right to die with dignity, but this right shall include the right to choose the time of one’s death and to receive medical assistance to die painlessly. No doctor, nurse or physician shall be held liable criminally and civilly liable for assisting a person in the free exercise of his right.”

Many patients and respirators who are suffering from incurable diseases are not conscious and so cannot say, whether they want to live or die. Life has been considered one of the precious gifts that have been given by God to human beings. It is always a privilege to be alive on this earth and play a part in God’s eternal scheme. But there have been circumstances when life becomes so difficult and unbearable that at a one-time person may wish to die or wished that he had never born. Under the jurisdiction of ‘Human beings’ the right to life is regarded as one of the most prominent rights among all the basic rights enshrined in the Constitutions of their respective States.

It is an equally important and true fact that however important the ‘life’ may be, it is death which is the final destiny of every living creature in this world. Thus, the question that arises that, ‘Does the right to life include the right to die’? If the right to live with dignity has been considered an integral state function, should an individual’s decision to die, be protected from state intrusion? This question has been finally settled after the long debates and discussions on the point that, ‘Does Article 21 which includes the right to life also includes the right to die’ in Common Cause (A Registered Society). v. Union of India[1]. The Constitutional bench in this case held that “Right to life including right to live with human dignity” would mean the existence of such right up to the end of natural life, which also includes the right to a dignified life up to the point of death including a dignified procedure of death.

The Question Of Unconstitutionality Of Section 306 Of Indian Penal Code- Gian Kaur’s Case

The issue of the “Right to Die” for the first time came before the Supreme Court of India in the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India[2]. In this case, Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code which penalizes attempts to suicide was held to be unconstitutional as it is against the highest and one of the most prominent fundamental rights i.e. right to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Indian constitution. In this case, the scope of life has been widened as well as it was held that ‘right to life under Article 21 includes ‘ the right to die’. The Constitutional Bench in the case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab[3], scrutinized the reason and was of the opinion that if a person has the right to live, he also has a right not to live.

The court further observed that taking a view on the fundamental rights dealing with different situations and the right to do an act also includes not to do an act in that manner. Delving into the facet of committing suicide, the Bench observed that when a man commits suicide, he has to undertake certain positive overt acts and the genesis of those act cannot be included within the ambit of protection of “Right to life” under Article 21. It was held that the significant aspect of the sanctity of life should not be overlooked. No stretch of the imagination, extinction of life can be read to be included within the sphere of “Right to die” as part of the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21.

“Right to life is a natural right embodied and incorporated under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution but suicide is unnatural termination or extinction of life, therefore, incompatible and inconsistent with the concept of Right to Life”. The Court on adverting on the concept of euthanasia observed that protagonist of euthanasia on the view that existence in a persistent vegetative state is not a benefit to the patient of terminal illness being unrelated to the principle of sanctity of life or the right to live with dignity is no way going to provide assistance to determine the scope of Article 21 for deciding whether the guarantee of the right to life includes right to die.


“No life that breathes with human breath has ever truly longed for death”- Alfred Tennyson

The perception of the word “Right to life” never remains the same at every stage of life. There comes a phase in a person’s life when the spring of the word ‘Life’ is frozen, the rain of circulation becomes dry, the movement of the body becomes motionless, the rainbow of life becomes colorless and the word ‘life’ becomes blurred and inevitable death comes near and more near to hold it as an octopus gripping firmly with its tentacles so that person “shall never rise up”.[4]

[1] (2018) 5 SCC 1.

[2] (1994) 3 SCC 394

[3] (1996) 6 SCC 648

[4] Supra note 1.

Pranav Kaushal

Pranav Kumar Kaushal, Content Writter, Law Corner, Student B.A., LLB 7th Semester, School of Law, Bahra University, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.

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