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Article 21 and Right To Die

Updated: 7 days ago

~ Navdeep Kour

The Constitution of India, adopted on 26th January of 1950 is the supreme law of India, the basic and fundamental document of the country. The part III of the Indian Constitution from article 12 to 35 contains the fundamental rights, the basic rights.

Article 21 - Right to Life and Personal Liberty is the article with the most dynamic approach. Article 21 is considered as the heart of Indian Constitution. Interpreting Article 21 with respect to the Constitution, states, “ that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except the procedure established by the law”. Right to Life and Liberty is the most important right as when a person has right to life then only he can avail other rights.

In Kharak Singh v. State of U.P[i],

It was held, by the term life as used in article 21 something more is meant than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. Right to Live with Human Dignity is one of the ambit of the Article 21, it states that if Article 21 provides us with the right to live, same Article enables us to live that life with dignity explained by the court in the case of Francis Coralie v. Union territory of Delhi[ii].


The question now arises that if Article 21 provides us the Right to Live with Human Dignity then whether the same Article provides us with the Right to Die? The Right not to Live can be related with Section 309 of IPC 1860 as an offence, but there has been a difference of opinions on the constitutional validity of this very particular section.

In Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra[iii],

Court held that Right to Live means Right to Live with Human Dignity. Right to Live includes Right to Die. The fundamental rights have positive as well as negative aspects. The fundamental rights enumerated in Article 19 are only extensiveness of the Right to Life and have no meaning without it. Therefore, Section 309 is violative of the right guaranteed by Article 21 and 19 of Constitution.

In Gyan Kaur v. State of Punjab[iv],

Right to Die is not included in the Right to Life under Article 21 and thus, Court finally held that Section 309 of IPC is not invalid. 20 years later in the case of Common Cause v. Union of India, the Justice observed and opened the judgment in case of Gyan Kaur that the Right to Life doesn’t not include the Right to Die, in the context of suicide may require to be revisited in future in view of domestic and international developments pointing towards decriminalization of suicide.

Recently, in case of Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India[v],

It was observed that instead of inhumane Section 309, Section 115 of Mental Health Care Act, 2017 makes it clear that Section 309 is rendered largely ineffective and on the contrary, instead of committing a criminal offence, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall not be tried and punished under Section 309 of IPC with respect to Section 115 of Mental Health Care Act 2017.

It is clear that right to live is a natural right and a natural process and Right not to Live is unnatural termination, but the courts have made Euthanasia legal in the country. Euthanasia is described as the deliberate and intentional killing of a person for the benefit of the person in order to relieve him from the pain and suffering.

In Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India,

Supreme Court recognized and gave sanction to passive Euthanasia. The bench ruled that Right to Live with Dignity under Article 21 of Constitution of India was inclusive of the Right to Die with Dignity. It was the need to legalize Euthanasia as it is inhumane against the Law to make a person to live in miserable and painful life. Not only the patient but the family members suffer too emotionally, mentally and economically, so under the Right to Life, the passive euthanasia is legal in India but that too with proper approval of Court as in Aruna Shaunbhang Case[vi] where it was observed that there is a possibility that people might misuse passive euthanasia.


Sources: Narender Kumar, Constitutional Law of India, Allahabad Law Agency (9th Edition 2015), Prof. S. N. Misra, Indian Penal Code 1860, Central Law Publication (19th Edition 2014) & Vakilnol.com

Picture: strictlylegal.in

[i] AIR 1963 SC 1295 [ii] AIR 1981 SC 746 [iii] 1987 (1) BomCR 499 [iv] 1996 SCC (2) 648 [v] 2018 (10) SCC 1 [vi] WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO. 115 OF 2009

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