Does the Right to Life include The Right to Die?

The State has paramount responsibility of the wellbeing of its citizens, especially in a welfare state like India. Does the Right to Life enshrined in Article 21 also then give the State the Right to allow or disallow death of a citizen? Read along to find out more about the Right to Die.

The Constitution of India provides each and every person the right to live. According to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”. The question that arises here is whether the Right to life includes the Right to Die? The phrase “Right to Die” often make us think of two basic aspects i.e. Euthanasia and Suicide. Euthanasia has no traces in the Indian constitution, but many times we see the Indian judiciary witnessing cases subject to section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.

The recent judgment of Aruna Shanbaug case [1]gave a proper insight and the true definition to this situation. The judgment, in this case stated that the concept of Euthanasia does not imply that a person can enforce his or her Right to Die, but it’s when someone closely related to the individual is trying to enforce it for him or her. That is, a close acquaintance of the individual can approach the court in the name of the ‘Next Friend’ if in case the individual is in a permanent vegetative state.

Article 21 of the Indian constitution

When Article 21 comes into consideration, the famous passport case i.e. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India [2]comes into one’s mind. In this landmark case, the court interpreted the term ‘liberty’. Although, in this case, liberty was the liberty to travel abroad, it was understood and interpreted that liberty is the freedom to do something. For many people, life is not mere existence.

In the case, the State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubal[3], it was held that the Right to Life was inclusive of Right to Die. This judgment was then over-ruled by Chenna Jagdishwar v. State of Andhra Pradesh[4]. It was held that Right to Die is not a Fundamental Right within the meaning of Article 21.

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When the Right to Life is restricted on the basis of Right to live a life that one does not wish to live, it is infringing the Fundamental Right in a way. P. Rathinam v. Union of India[5] over-ruled the Chenna Jagdishwar v. State of Andhra Pradesh4 and expanded the scope of Article 21 i.e. Right to Life include Right to live a forced life.

Section 309 and 306 of IPC

Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) punishes the person who attempts suicide and Section 306 of the IPC punishes the one who is abetting to commit suicide.

In State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubal[6], it was held that Right to Life is inclusive of Right to die by striking off Section 309 of IPC. According to the judgment, if the motive of the prescribed punishment is to prevent suicides by deterrents, it is difficult to understand how the same motive can be achieved by administering punishment. Similarly, in the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India[7] it was upheld that Section 309 of the IPC is a cruel and highly irrational provision that violates Article 21 of the constitution.

Is Right to Life inclusive of the Right to Die?

A question may arise in case of a dying man. A person who is seriously ill or has been suffering from an incurable form of the disease, he may be permitted to terminate or end it by a premature extinction of his life in those circumstances. Such a type of case falls under the ambit of ‘Right to Die’ with dignity as a part of living a life with dignity. According to the court, these are not just cases of extinguishing life but the cases of accelerating the process of natural death which has already commenced.

The judiciary fears that by granting ‘Right to Die’, the chances of misusing this right will become higher. But these fears cannot be accepted in its entirety for denying someone his Right to Die.

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Conclusion

Ultimately, the aim should be to formulate or evolve a conceptual model effectively handling the evils without sacrificing human rights. Right to Life is a Fundamental Right, and the Right to Die is often violated in the name of it. The law should not restrict a man’s wish to live or to die. For a person living in a state of coma, the next best thing that can be offered is a peaceful death. What is the point of our Rights and laws, if such a minimum courtesy is not granted to a person?

But, one cannot neglect the chances of violation of such a right. Certain rules and restrictions need to be imposed in order to enforce such a right. The landmark judgment of Aruna Shanbaug’s case should be taken into consideration, wherein the court has laid down certain restrictions while allowing the performance of Euthanasia.

Also read Commutation of Death Penalty and Death Row Phenomenon


[1] Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, (2011) 4 SCC 454

[2] AIR 1978 SC 597

[3] 1987 Cr LJ 549

[4] 1988 CRLJ 549 A.P

[5] 1994 AIR 1844

[6] 1987 (1) BomCR 499

[7] 1994 AIR 1844