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Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India & Ors

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India & Ors

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/03/2011

COURT: Supreme Court of India

JUDGES: Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra



Petitioner: Ms. Pinki Virani on behalf of Aruna Ramchandra Shaunbaugh. Respondent:  Union of India

SUBJECT: The judgment revolves around a substantive question of law, as to whether the term right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes right to die which is more of a negative aspect. Further, it also raises a question of whether the decisional autonomy of an individual to decide his personal matters can be interpreted to an extant that the individual has the right to end his life at his discretion.

FACTS: Aruna Ramachandra Shaunbaugh was a staff Nurse working at Kind Edward Memorial hospital, Parel, Mumbai. At the workplace, a sweeper tried to rape her and when he found that she was on her menstrual cycle he sodomised and left her strangulated. The next day she was hospitalised by a staff who found her lying on the floor with blood all over in an unconscious state. The incident dates back to 27th November 1973 but when the case was brought before the SC in 2011 around 37 years passed away leaving her in a pitiable health condition. Though she was abandoned by her family members the nurses of KEM

hospital took good care of her. Later, Ms. Pinki Virani who claimed to be the next friend of Aruna Ramachandra Shaunbaugh filed a writ of mandamus in the SC under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution to direct the respondents to stop feeding Aruna, and let her die peacefully.


The Indian Constitution.

The Indian Penal Code.

  1. Whether right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes right to die?
  2. Whether section 306 and 309 of IPC Constitutionally valid?

The Court in the preliminary stage of the case contended upon the maintainability of the petition under Article 32 as the petitioner did not establish any fundamental right violation. However, considering that there was a substantial question of law whether right to life under Article 21 includes right to die, the Court allowed the petition.

The respondents placed reliance on Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab 1996(2) SCC 648, wherein the SC upheld the validity of Section 309 and 306 and held that, right to life being a positive aspect does not include right to die.  They further contended as follows:

However, the petitioners in the instant case placed reliance on Vikram Deo Singh Tomar v. State of Bihar 1988 (Supp) SCC 734 wherein the Court held that, “every person is entitled to a quality of life consistent with his human personality. The right to live with human dignity is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen”. Also, in the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India (1994) 3 SCC 394, the Court concluded that every positive aspect of a right will also include a negative aspect just the same way in which right to freedom of speech and expression includes right to silence.

The petitioner further contended that, right to live includes right not to live a forced life. Every person should be guaranteed the right to die with dignity and to refuse prolonged medical treatments which artificially holds the life of the person. Further there are two types of euthanasia which are:

Passive euthanasia is recognised in countries like Netherlands and Belgium. However, the Dutch legislations do not recognise euthanasia for minors.

Having heard both the parties to the case the Court in its judgment held that, Section 309 and 306 are constitutionally valid.  However, it also held that passive euthanasia may be permitted under certain circumstances and laid down certain guidelines for its execution until a domestic law governing euthanasia is passed by the Parliament.

However, the Court refused to grant euthanasia to Aruna Ramachandra Shaunbaugh stating that:

Later Aruna died of Pneumonia on 18th May 2015.

CONCLUSION: It is a judicially accepted fact that, the term life under Article 21 does not mean mere animal existence but includes all those means which are essential for a dignified life of an individual. Hence, right to dignified life would be meaning less without a right to dignified death. A peaceful and dignified death would be much better than to live artificially on life prolonging machines.

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