Right to life include right to die?

INTRODUCTION

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees each and every person right to live. The states that, ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law [1]’. But whether right to life includes right to die is a much debated question. When we are talking about right to die, there are two aspects, (1) Euthanasia and (2) Suicide. The first one has no remains of any traces in the constitution, whereas Indian Judiciary has a lot of experience, witnessing cases subjecting to section 309 of IPC.  It was the recent judgment of Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India [2] (from now Aruna Shanbaug case), that gave a proper insight into this issue. The concept of euthanasia is not where an individual is enforcing his/her right to die, but it’s where someone who is in close relation with the individual is trying to enforce the right on behalf of the individual. So from this we can see that this can only be enforced when someone is not in a position to enforce for himself/herself. That is, when an individual is in a permanent vegetative state, his close acquaintance can approach the court, in the name of the ‘next friend’ for granting euthanasia. The relevance of euthanasia is quite invisible when it comes to right to die. But there are cases where people, when they come to know about some chronicle illness; they give consent to euthanasia. So, euthanasia is not something that can be neglected.

When we analyze Section 309 of IPC (Indian Penal Code), we can see that, the section is basically punishing a person who has attempted to commit suicide. Even though it is a section that is made to prevent suicides in the country, the effect of the section is such that it is punishing someone who attempted it so that he would not live. For a person to attempt suicide, he must have faced a lot of problems and mental agony or the psychological dilemmas. By enforcing Section 309, the state is punishing him for committing something that his situation made him to do. So it can be said that this section is really a draconian punishment and hence should be removed.     

This project gives an elaborate emphasis on the relevance of right to die, how much it’s contradicting with what the framers of the constitution intended to convey, the implication of right to life on euthanasia. All these are expressed in the light of the Indian constitution, basically taking it as a basis for the analysis.

EUTHANASIA

Euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending a person's life to relieve suffering[3]. Euthanasia is basically of two types, (1) active and (2) passive. Active euthanasia Active euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill and is the most controversial means. An individual may use a euthanasia machine to perform active voluntary euthanasia on him/her[4].

Passive euthanasia entails the withholding of common treatments, such as antibiotics, necessary for the continuance of life. Passive euthanasia occurs when the patient dies because the medical professionals either don’t do something necessary to keep the patient alive, or when they stop doing something that is keeping the patient alive such as:

  • Switch off life-support machines
  • Disconnect a feeding tube
  • Don’t carry out a life-extending operation
  • Don’t give life-extending drugs[5].

The concept of Euthanasia was highly discouraged by the system of judiciary in the country. However, it was in P.Rathinam v. Union of India[6], that the question of Euthanasia was held. But the court rejected the plea and said that the topic is beyond the scope of the present case. But then the judiciary gave an assent to passive euthanasia on 7th March, 2011 in the landmark case of Aruna Shanbaug. The sole reason why euthanasia was not considered at all was because of the fear of misuse of it. In a country like India which have experienced lots of cases of domestic violence, abandoning of old people etc., the fear of judiciary in feeling that this privilege can be misused cannot be ignored. That is why, while assenting to passive euthanasia, the judiciary also laid down certain guidelines that are supposed to be satisfied and undertaken to allow euthanasia. In this case even though the court did not allow application of euthanasia on the victim, the court came up with certain conditions that need to be fulfilled for conducting euthanasia and under whose guidance euthanasia can be allowed.  

Euthanasia or mercy killing was or is not approved in our nation because of the fear of misuse. Increasing abandoning of old people in the country is an area of massive fear, where chances of people killing someone on his death bead to acquire his/her property can happen if euthanasia is granted. But when we consider from a medical point of view, for any doctor, it is the pain that is suffered by his patient that matters. So in countries like Netherlands, the concept of euthanasia evolved when a doctor passively killed his patient, so that the patient is relieved of the pain. Pain and mental trauma or agony is one of the main reasons why there is acute demand for legalizing euthanasia. When there are massive states of conditions like paralysis, where the only chance of recovering is less than one per cent, the whole purpose of lying in the death bed expecting a miracle is of no use. In such cases, the patients should be given the right to refuse treatment or opt for mercy killing. No one can be forced to live a life that he does not desire and that to with the help of machines and medicines.      

ARTICLE 21

When we talk about Article 21, the passport case or Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[7], is the case that comes to any law students mind. Even though it is nowhere relevant as far as the project topic is concerned, it was in this case the court interpreted the term liberty. Even though the liberty that was upheld here was the liberty to travel abroad, it was understood that liberty is the freedom to do something. For an individual life is not mere an animal existence. To live once whole life in a death bed is not a life for some section of people. But then interpreting right to life inclusive of right to die can be considered as defeating the whole purpose for which right to life has been given. In the case of State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubal[8], the court held that the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 includes a right to die[9], even though this judgment was subsequently over-ruled in ChennaJagdishwarVs State of A.P[10]. It was held that, Right to Life does not necessarily signify which is an offence, so Right to die is not a Fundamental Right within the meaning of Article 21[11]. Fundamental rights are given or guaranteed to the citizen of India to ensure their protection, safety and security. But then a restriction in the form of right to live a life that one does not want to is in one way or the other infringing this same fundamental right itself. Right to live with integrity is one dimension of the same Article 21. So when we analyze the case where one does not want to live, the state is forcing him to live and even if there is a life as the result of this coercion, the life cannot be told be lived with integrity. The sole logic behind imposing such a restriction is that, the decision to commit suicide is not something that happens after continuous thought process. In majority of the cases it comes as a result of the heat of the moment. So in order to restrict that right to die can be removed from the ambit of Article 21.  But then again as countering to this logic, one does not attempt suicide expecting a life ahead. Not dying is a contingency that happen and anticipating that is something that no one does. So in one way, one should have the right to die but it should be made sure that, that right granted to me is not used by someone else against me.

In P. Rathinam vs. Union of India[12], the court, over-ruling ChennaJagdishwarVs State of A.P[13] held expanding the scope of Article 21, that Right to Life includes Right Not to live a forced Life[14]. But this judgment was subsequently over-ruled in Gyan Kaur v State of Punjab[15], the court upheld the ruling of Andra Pradesh high court and held Article 21 does not include to right to die.

So after analyzing psychological point of view and legal point of view, we can conclude that, there should not be any rigid rule allowing or not allowing one in making one’s own choice and it must not be taken for granted if such a right is granted to an individual.

SECTION 309 AND 306 of IPC

Section 309 states that, ‘Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall he punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year 1[or with fine, or with both]’. Section 309 punishes one who attempts to commit suicide and 306 punish one in abetting to commit suicide.

In India there have always been many cases of judicial review. In Sanjay Kumar vs. State the Delhi High Court[16] while acquitting a young boy who attempted to commit suicide by consuming “Tik Twenty” strongly advocated for deletion of Section 309 from the statute book and said that the continuance of section 309 is an anachronism unworthy of a human society like ours[17].  

In State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubal[18], the honorable High Court of Bombay held that right to life includes right to die, by striking down Section 309 of IPC. The court also said that ‘if the purpose of the prescribed punishment is to prevent the respective suicides by deterrence, it is difficult to understand how the same can be achieved by punishing those who have made the attempts[19]’. The court also said that, ‘no deterrence is further going to hold back those who want to die for a special or political cause or to leave the world either because of the loss of interest in life or for self-deliverance. Thus, in no case does the punishment serve the purpose in some cases it is bound to prove self-defeating and counterproductive[20]’.

The case that followed this was ChennaJagdishwar Vs State of A.P[21]’, the court rejected whatever that was held in Maruti Sripati and held that section 309 of IPC is constitutionally valid.

In P Rathinam v. Union of India[22] also division bench of Supreme Court also upheld the same view of that of Maruti Sripati and while striking down, Section 309 the apex Court said it is a cruel and irrational provision violative of Article 21 of the Constitution[23].

But in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab[24], constitutional bench of Supreme Court over-ruled P Rathinam and held that Section 309 of IPC is constitutionally valid. The court held while dismissing the petition the SC held Section 306 IPC as Constitutional and said that Right to Life does not include Right to die. Extinction of life is not included in protection of life. The Court further held that section 306 constitutes a distinct offence and can exist independently of Section 309 IPC. There is no correlation between the two sections[25].

RIGHT TO LIFE INCLUDES RIGHT TO DIE?

However be the social transformation, however the debates are growing, how much ever the resources are depleting when it comes to my grandmothers grandmother, who is 120 year old, I won’t let her die. She should live; after all she is my grandmother.  I don’t care about how she is living, on the artificial oxygen tubes that are attached on to her wind-pipe or on food supplements and are injected on to her vulnerable body, as far as I care, she should live. But then again, there are people who know about their “no chance of living” and henceforth giving consent for mercy killing. To live in a society where there are people with different perspectives is not an easy task, and to think about the legislature who is expected to enact laws satisfying the demands off all these people is definitely not an easy task.  But then it is the duty of the legislature to make sure that the majority is satisfied and in that the most vulnerable should be satisfied.  

In the case of State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubal[26], the question whether Article 21 contains right to die also was

When the constitution guarantees each and every citizen the right to life and personal liberty, the question of right to die will always dominate. To live a life with dignity has always been one of the greatest necessities of any human being. When one is not allowed to exercise this right, the whole purpose of guaranteeing the right to live with dignity is questioned.  It should be always one’s own choice to live or die. The state a guarantor of fundamental rights can’t take away this right from any individual. When a person is living in a vegetative state, when a person is living with the help of only artificial instruments or machines, the whole question of living with dignity is questioned.

The fear of the judiciary in feeling that if the right to die is granted, there are high chances of people misusing it cannot be accepted in its entirety for denying someone his right to die. This question of right to die is more of a social trauma where people with nominal chances of living a normal life is forced to live on medicines and artificial means whereas the government is not in a position to finance the needy or desperate people who have even more chances of living.

The legal perspective of this question has been analyzed in many cases and in a country like India, the value of precedents (previous judgments) hold a greater value. 

CONCLUSION

This project began by analyzing each and every concept that is essential in analyzing question as to whether right to die is also included in Article 21. From the analysis and study conducted, it was possible to reach the conclusion that right to life is a fundamental right and in the name of it, right to die is violated. Each and every person should be allowed to make his own choice in life and the law or the court cannot restrict him. For a person living in coma, the next best thing that can be given is to allow him to have a peaceful death. When such a minimum courtesy is not made available to a citizen, then what is the whole purpose of protecting us with rights that are fundamental? 

But the chances of abusing such a right cannot be neglected. When the whole nation is granted with a right, there will definitely be a lot of people who are going to violate it. So certain restrictions are to be imposed on enforcing such a right. The landmark judgment of Aruna Shanbaug is can be considered as an attempt on this regard. Even while allowing the performance of euthanasia, the court has laid down certain restrictions. Similarly when it comes to right to life also, one should be given the choice to live or not, but it should be made sure that no one violates this right.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l374-Article-21-and-Constitutional-validity-of-Right-to-Die.html

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthanasia_in_India

3.http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/euthanasia-where-do-you-stand-on-the-right-to-die/story-r4EUZ2ySNHjimk4C9w0GxN.html

4. RIGHT TO LIFE AND PERSONAL LIBERTY AND EUTHANASIA: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS DR SHAIKH SAHANWAZ ISLAM Assistant Professor, Uttaranchal University, Dehradun,UK, Vol.03 Issue-08, (August, 2015) ISSN: 2321-1784 International Journal in Management and Social Science (Impact Factor- 4.358)

5. Victory of Passive Euthanasia in India by S.S. Das * Cite as: (2011) PL August S-2

  • [1] Constitution of India, Bare act
  • [2] (2011) 4 SCC 454
  • [3] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Euthanasiaandassistedsuicide/Pages/Introduction.aspx, last visited 27/9/2016
  • [4] by S.S. Das, ‘Victory of Passive Euthanasia in India’, The Practical Lawyer
  • [5] Ibid
  • [6] (1994) 3 SCC 394
  • [7] AIR 1978 SC 597
  • [8] 1987 Cr LJ 549
  • [9] DR SHAIKH SAHANWAZ ISLAM, ‘RIGHT TO LIFE AND PERSONAL LIBERTY AND EUTHANASIA: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS’, Vol.03 Issue-08, (August, 2015) ISSN: 2321-1784 International Journal in Management and Social Science (Impact Factor- 4.358)
  • [10] 1988 CRLJ 549 A.P
  • [11] Supra footnote 9
  • [12] Supra footnote 6
  • [13] Supra footnote 10
  • [14] Supra footnote 9
  • [15] (1996) 2 SCC 648
  • [16] 1985 CRLJ 931
  • [17] Supra footnote 9
  • [18] Supra footnote 8
  • [19] Supra footnote 9
  • [20] 1987 CRLJ743(755) para 20.
  • [21] Supra footnote 10
  • [22] (1994) 3 SCC 394
  • [23] Supra footnote 9
  • [24] Supra footnote 15
  • [25] Supra footnote 9
  • [26] Supra footnote 4

 

Parvathi N 
on 17 January 2017
Published in Constitutional Law
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