In today’s world of loneliness and competition, debates about the fundamental right to end one’s own life are often taken up. It has been a topic of hot debate whether a person is abided by law to end his/her own life under certain circumstances.
In this article, we will talk about laws related to suicide in India and other countries.
Concept of Fundamental right to death
The concept of a fundamental right to die in India is taken from the right to life and personal liberty stated in article 21 of the constitution.
Article 21 includes other rights such as the right to live with human dignity, right to livelihood, right to shelter, right to privacy, right to food, right to education, right to get pollution-free air and water.
“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”
The fundamental right to die was first recognized by Delhi high court, in the case of State v. Sanjay Kumar Bhatia where the Delhi High Court criticized section 309 of IPC as an anachronism and a paradox’, and various other courts of India took the same view.
In the case of P. Rathinam, it was held that the scope of Article 21 includes the right to die, by section 309 of IPC which was declared unconstitutional and void. In P Rathinam it was held that Article 21 also includes positive content and is not merely negative in content.
This decision of the court was reviewed in Gian Kaur v State of Punjab case.
Facts of Gian Kaur v State of Punjab case
Appellants Gian Kaur and Harbans Singh were convicted by the trial court under sec. 306 of IPC and each was sentenced to six years and fine both. They both approached the supreme court for their acquittal.
They took the support of the decision given by this supreme court in P. Rathinam. The argument advanced by the appellant was that they were assisting the enforcement fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21. The petitioner challenged sections 306 and 309 for violation of articles 14 and article 21.
It was urged by the appellant that fundamental right to die’ be included in Article 21 of the Constitution as held in P. Rathinam declaring Section 309, IPC to be unconstitutional.
Any person allotting the commission of suicide by another is merely assisting in the enforcement of the fundamental right under Article 21; and, therefore, Section 306. IPC penalizing assisted suicide is equally violative of Article 21.
The court rejected the argument and held sections 306 and 309 of IPC valid. Court said their is difference between the right to die and right to life, right to life is natural right and right to die by choice cannot be equated with it.
The fundamental right to life, also include in it right to live with human dignity till the end of natural life. This also includes the right to a dignified life upto the point of death including a dignified procedure of death.
While differentiating between the two rights the court said that, right to die’ with dignity at the end of life is not to be confused or equated with the right to die’ an unnatural death curtailing the natural span of life. The court remained silent on the issue of passive euthanasia.
On the question related to a person who is dying, the person whose natural process of death had started, the court said this category of the case comes under ‘right to die with dignity as a part of the right to live with dignity. These categories of cases are not cases of extinguishing life but only of accelerating the conclusion of the process of natural death which has already commenced.
In 2011 in the Aruna Shanbaug case, the top court recognized passive euthanasia by which it permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision.
On 9th March 2018 in the case of Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court recognized and gave sanction to passive euthanasia and living will/ advance directive. In 2018 right to die was given the status of a fundamental right.
In this case, SC recognizes ‘living will’ made by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia and lays down guidelines on procedures to be adopted for it.
The judgment was delivered by a Bench comprising of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice A.K. Sikri, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justice Ashok Bhushan.
What are passive euthanasia and living will?
Passive euthanasia is a condition where there is the withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.
By living will the patient can give his explicit instructions in advance about the medical treatment to be administered when he or she is terminally ill or no longer able to express informed consent.
Legal position of other countries on ‘right to die’
Australia was the first country to legalize euthanasia, in 1995, Human euthanasia is legal in Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Colombia, and Luxembourg, and assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany Japan, Canada, and Albania, and some parts of the USA.
Victoria the state in Australia is the first state to legalize assisted dying in the world. Various other countries have also introduced laws through a referendum or a court process to legalize the above-mentioned process of dying by suicide.