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From the moment a man is born, he is clothed with certain basic human rights of which the ‘right to live’ is an inherent right without which the other rights cannot be enjoyed. This particularly implies that as such the human being has the right not to be killed by another human being. But the question which arises next is that whether the person enjoying the ‘right to live’ has a ‘right not to live’ that is to say whether he has a ‘right to die’? This may include the ‘right of a dying man to die with dignity’, but the ‘right to die with dignity’ does not imply the ‘right to die’ as an unnatural death. One of the controversial issues in this aspect in the recent past has been the legalization of passive euthanasia[1] in the country. According to Black Law’s Dictionary, euthanasia is the act or practice of killing or bringing about the death of a person who suffers from incurable diseases for reasons of mercy, also termed as ‘mercy killing’. It is the administration of drugs with the explicit intention of ending patient’s life at the patient’s request.[2] The debate on euthanasia thus lies on the conflict between the principles guaranteed under Article 21[3] of the Indian Constitution and whether the ‘right to live with dignity’ so guaranteed includes the ‘right to die with dignity’.


In India, first attempt in legislature was made in 1985 when Sadanand Varde had moved the bill in the Maharashtra legislature seeking to legalize mercy killing. The Bill was criticized on the ground that such a law if passed will lead to its arbitrary use. Again, an attempt was made by Mr. B.V. Patil in the Lok Sabha in 1985. However, both the attempts resulted in naught.[4]
The Euthanasia (Permission and Regulation) Bill, 2007 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by C.K. Chandrappan, a MP from Trichur, Kerala which provided for painless termination of life of completely bed ridden individuals.[5]
Recently in 2009, Kerala’s Law Reform Commission, headed by former V.R. Krishan Iyer, Supreme Court Judge has recommended to legalize euthanasia.[6] In the Aruna Shanbaug case[7], where Supreme Court legalized passive euthanasia under conditions and pointed that law in this connection will continue to be the laws until the Legislature looks into this matter. Indeed, even after Aruna Shanbaug case, the then Law Minister Mr. Veerappa Moily expressed the need of a serious debate in this matter and also agreed with the Supreme Court.[8]


Maneka Gandhi v. UOI widened the scope of Article 21 which now protects the right to life and personal liberty of citizen and non-citizen from the Executive and the Legislative action. A person can be deprived of his life and personal liberty if two conditions are complied with, first, there must be law and secondly, there must be procedure prescribed by that law, provided which should be fair, and reasonable. [9]
The words “personal liberty” came into consideration in A.K. Gopalan’s case[10] where the Supreme Court narrowed down the expression but finally it got overruled by Maneka Gandhi’s case where Bhagwati J. observed;
“The expression ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 is of widest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of man and some of them have raised to the status of distinct fundamental rights and given additional protection under Article 19.”[11]


The question now arises is that whether the ‘right to life’ as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution include the ‘right to die’? This came for consideration for the first time before the Bombay High Court in Dubal’s case[12] where the court held that fundamental rights have positive and negative aspects. Citing an example it stated, “freedom of speech and expression includes freedom not to speak and similarly the freedom to form association and movement includes the freedom not to join any association or move anywhere and accordingly, it stated that logically it must follow that the ‘right to live’ would include the right not to live that is to say the ‘right to die’ ”. The court also attempted to distinguish between suicide and mercy killing, thereby striking down Section 309[13] of IPC, 1960 as unconstitutional. [14]
This judgement was later upheld by the Supreme Court in P Rathinam’s case[15], where the section 309 of the IPC was declared to be ultra vires Article 21 of the Constitution and that it should be removed from the statute to humanize the penal laws in the country. [16]
However the above ruling of the Supreme Court was challenged in Gian Kaur’s case[17] where constitutionality of sections 306[18] and 309 were challenged. It was held that the right to life is  inconsistent with the right to die and stated that the right to life is a natural right embodied under article 21 but suicide is an unnatural termination of life and hence inconsistent with the concept of right to life.  It was further observed that right to life including the right to live with human dignity would mean the existence of such right up to the end of natural life whereas euthanasia has been described as a way of accelerating the process of natural death which has already commenced. It was also held that permitting termination of life in such cases to reduce the suffering during the process of natural death cannot be included under Article 21 as it curtails the natural span of life. Hence, the court did not allow passive euthanasia to be legalised and sections 306 and 309 of IPC were held to be valid and constitutional.[19]
In the recent judgement of the Supreme Court in Aruna Shanbaug case[20] has paved the gateway for legalisation of passive euthanasia in India, though not legalising active euthanasia[21]. It laid down the safeguards to be observed in the case of a terminally ill patient who is unable to signify consent due to physical or mental predicaments, thereby permitting passive euthanasia in exceptional circumstances only where the prior approval of the high court has to be sought to adopt such a course and the court in turn has to take the opinion of three medical experts in this regard. Thus it is ultimately on the court to decide as parens patria as to what is in the best interest of the patient.


To deprive a person of dignity is to deprive him of a meaningful existence. An individual has a right to decide how he chooses to live his life without interference from others, thereby expressing his choice as a fundamental principle underlying the right to live with dignity. In a recent landmark judgment,[22] right to die has been included within the ambit of right to live, which means that a patient is allowed to die painlessly when he already knows he is on his death bed and would eventually die because of the terminal illness. As such the legalization of passive euthanasia relieves a terminally ill person from a lingering death. It has been argued many a times that such legalization would lead to its arbitrary use but every right granted involves a risk of it being abused which does not mean that the right should be denied to the people.



[1] Passive euthanasia is a situation where the medical treatment of a patient is withdrawn with the cautious intention to accelerate the death of the patient.
The court in 2011 recognized passive euthanasia in Aruna Shanbaug case by which it had allowed withdrawal of treatment from patients who are not in a position to make an informed decision.

[2] Brody, Baruch. (1998). Life and Death Decision Making, New York; Oxford University


[3] No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.

[4] Somia Malik & Dr. Rajesh Hooda, Developments in India, Need of Legalizing Euthanasia in India (Jun 18th, 2019 , 4:28 PM),

[5] Divya Sharma & Dr.Kuljit Kaur, Legal Developments in the Context of Euthanasia in India, Jurisprudential Aspects of India: With Special Reference to India,(Jun 18th, 2019 , 4:31 PM)

[6]Towards the Law on Euthanaisa, The Hindu, Jun 18th 2019, at

[7] Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaugh v UOI (1986) 88 Bom LR 589

[8] Serious Debate on Euthanasia Needed, Hindustantimes, Jun 18th, 2019, at

[9] (1978) 2 S.C.R. 621, (‘78) A.S.C. 597

[10] AK Gopalan vs The State Of Madras (AIR 1950 SC 27)

[11] Dr. J.N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, 254(53rd Central Law Agency, 2016)

[12] State of Maharashtra vs. Maruti Sripati Dubal 1986 Mah LJ 913

[13]Attempt to commit suicide.—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]

[14] Dr. J.N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, 276(53rd Central Law Agency, 2016)

[15]P Rathinam vs Union of India 1994 SCC (3) 394

[16] P Rathinam vs Union of India 1994 SCC (3) 394(Jun 19th , 2019, 2:01 PM) at

[17] Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab 1996 SCC (2) 648

[18] Abetment of suicide.—If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine

[19] Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab 1996 SCC (2) 648 (Jun 19th , 2019, 2:01 PM) at

[20] Supra note 7

[21] A conscious life shortening act is called ‘active’ Euthanasia. Active Euthanasia involves positioning individuals to death for humane reasons, as when a doctor uses a lethal dose of treatment to a patient. It is basically the active acceleration of a death by use of drugs, whether by oneself or with the aid of a doctor.

[22] Common Cause (A Regd. Society) vs. Union Of India on 9 March, 2018, (Jun 19th , 2019, 2:01 PM)at where it was held that the right to die with dignity is an intrinsic facet of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of the India which comprehends dignity as its essential foundation and as such each individual must have the right to decide whether or not to accept medical intervention in case of terminal illness.



Yashwi Agarwal is an undergraduate law student at Amity University Kolkata. Her key areas of interest are company law and constitutional law.

Sanchita Agarwal is an undergraduate law student at Amity University Kolkata. Her key areas of interest are company law and constitutional law.
In Content Picture Credit: Sify

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