The question on whether or not the right to die is included in Article 21 came up for consideration for the first time in the case of State of Maharashtra vs Maruti Sripati Dubal (1987) in the Bombay High Court. The court held that the right to life includes the right to die, and struck down Section 309 IPC.
In this case, a mentally deranged Bombay Police constable tried to set himself afire in the corporation's office on being refused permission to set up a shop. The court observed, "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."
In P Rathinam vs Union of India (1994), a division bench of the Supreme Court supported the HC ruling and struck down Section 309 as unconstitutional on the grounds that it amounted to punishing the victim twice over.
Both these rulings were overruled in 1996 in the Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab case. A fivemember Constitution bench held that the right to life does not include 'right to die' or 'right to be killed'. Death is the opposite of life. Likewise, the right to die is inconsistent with the right to life, it was stated. Delivering this verdict, the court observed, "The right to life is a natural right embodied in Article 21 of the Constitution but suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life .... and inconsistent with the concept of right to life."
Supreme Court lawyer RN Trivedi says the court overruled the orders on the ground that Section 309 confers a wide discretion in the matter of sentencing, without prescribing any minimum punishment and without making imprisonment compulsory However, Mumbai-based criminal lawyer Majid Memon says, "A person who commits suicide is himself a victim, rather than an offender We in a civil society must identify causes for his acts and ensure such circumstances do not recur."