Scope of Article 21 with Special Reference to Whether Right to life with Dignity includes Right to die with Dignity: an Analysis

This article was submitted by Chitra Loungani from Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad for National Legal Writing Competition,2016.

Article 21 of the Indian constitution says, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” Right to life doesn’t mean just living but it means living with dignity. As Right to life is a right given on grounds of being a Human Right, on the same grounds he must be granted the Right to die during incurable illness or terminal illness.  In a case before Bombay High Court, in State of Maharashtra v. Maruthi Sripati Dubal,[1] the court declared that Right to life with dignity includes Right to die with dignity. According to section 309 of Indian penal code, 1860 which says attempt to suicide is a punishable offence and was further declared unconstitutional. But in a case before the Supreme Court of India in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab [2] it was held that right to life doesn’t include right to die and right to be killed. Thus attempt to commit suicide is punishable under 309 of Indian penal code 1860 and it was further declared that it is not unconstitutional in Indian constitution article 21. The reason behind this was that the right to life is a natural right but right to die is not a natural right. Now the question arises that why right to life doesn’t include right to die? As whoever born on this earth will die some day as it is a universal truth, that life includes death also. And every person has a right to life in a dignified manner than why can’t right to die in the dignified manner.


Euthanasia means the intervention of others human agency to end the life. Mercy killing therefore cannot be considered in the same footing as on suicide. Mercy killing is nothing but a homicide.[3] euthanasia brodally divided into two parts i.e. passive and active.  A mode of ending life in which the intent is to cause the patient’s death in a single act (also called mercy killing)[4] is called as active euthanasia i.e. the use of such a lethal substance to kill a person or use of such a lethal injunction so, that patient can die without suffering any agony. On the other hand, passive euthanasia is defined as withholding the medical treatment so that without such treatment the patients will die for e.g. removing lungs machine when the patient is in coma.


In a case before Supreme Court of India in Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India[5], it was declared that passive Euthanasia is legalized in India and active euthanasia is considered as crime in all over the world except where legislation permits active euthanasia but India active euthanasia is a crime under section 302 or 304 of Indian Penal code.

Every year more than 1300 patients are dying due to cancer. According to 2014 in India nearly 5 lakhs patients died due to cancer. And if we look through the medical expenses for this disease is too costly only rich people can afford the medical expenses. For this reason this treatment is far away from the approach of poor people. So, in that situation they  don’t have any other option rather they have to suffer the pain and their family will also regrets as they can’t provide medical assistance to the patient. So at the end nothing can be done except suffering from pain.


There are some countries where right to die with dignity is permitted. As the California government has given sanction to the right to die bill which allows a patient can terminate his life with the medical help if the patient is suffering from terminally ill diseases’. In the year 2002 Netherland became the first country which legalize euthanasia but certain strict condition was imposed by the legislation i.e. before allowing the euthanasia to any person one has to check the patient must be suffering from incurable illness, unbearable pain and the demand for euthanasia should be made in “fully awareness” by the patient. Afterwards Belgium become the second country to legalize euthanasia. Now in Switzerland also physician assisted suicide is legal that is called as passive euthanasia.


The author believes that right to life with dignity should include right to die with dignity. According to article 21 of the Indian constitution right to life is a fundamental right and if a person is not living his life with dignity than there will be no means of such a fundamental right and that fundamental right will lose its verdict. As in India passive euthanasia is legalized but what about a person who is suffering from last stage cancer and suffering with pain till the death. In all such cases and for all such disease which are incurable active euthanasia should be legalized and this is the only option through which he can get relief out of pain. Also a person who is totally depending upon others for daily routine activity is this called as a life with dignity? So, for all such incurable diseases neither the patients can live their life or their family members. In such instances death with dignity will only remain as an option. According to that there is a need to legalizing active euthanasia in India for such patients and also the law should be reviewed once again. Also the judgment given by the Supreme Court in the case of Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India[6], should be reviewed by the medical committee that what all disese should fall within the ambit of active euthanasia. So, the patients can die with dignity also without suffering any consequences of such a traffic disease.

At the end would like to suggest that there is a need to review article 21 of the Indian constitution and its ambit and the scope should be widened, the right to life with dignity should include right to die with dignity. Active euthanasia should be legalized in India.


[1] 1987 Cri LJ 743.

[2](1996)2 SCC 64

[3] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Caesar_Roy/publications visited on 19 aug 2016 7: 00 pm

[4] https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/active+euthanasia visited on 17 aug 2016 9: 00 pm

[5] (2011) 4 SCC 454

[6] (2011) 4 SCC 454


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