Common Cause (A Regd. Society) v. Union of India

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/03/2018

COURT: Supreme Court of India

JUDGES: A Bhushan and A Sikri

REFERENCE: WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 215 OF 2005

PARTIES

Petitioner: Common Cause (A Regd. Society)

Respondent: Union of India

SUBJECT: The judgment revolves around the question of whether right to die with dignity is a part of Article 21 of the Constitution? The Court further moves on to discuss the validity of execution of living will.

FACTS: The petitioner in the instant case is a registered society who has filed the petition seeking the Court to declare that, right to die with dignity is a part of right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution. Further to direct the respondents to take appropriate measures in consultation with the State governments to help people who are terminally ill to execute Living Will and Attorney authorisation for the same. So that, if the person is admitted in a hospital in the future the Will executed by him can be used to help the doctor decide the kind of treatment that he should undertake to treat the patient.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:

The Indian Constitution:

  • Article 32: Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by Part III
  • The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed
  • The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III
  • Article 21: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.

The Indian Penal Code:

  • Section 309: 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].
  • Section 306: 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.
ISSUES:
  1. Whether right to die with dignity is a part of Article 21 of the Constitution?
  2. Whether sections 306 and 309 IPC are constitutionally valid?
ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGEMENT:

The petitioner in their argument submitted that,

  • Right to die is an inextricable facet of Article 21, as the term life under the Article does not mean mere animal existence but includes all those means which are essential for the dignified life of the individual. Quality of life that a person leads is all that matters.
  • Mental diseases and imbalances, unbearable physical ailments, affliction by socially- dreaded diseases, decrepit physical condition disabling the person from taking normal care of his body and performing the normal chores, the loss of all senses or of desire for the pleasures of any of the senses, extremely cruel or unbearable conditions of life making it painful to live are the main reasons why people commit suicide or request euthanasia.

The petitioners further placed reliance in the case of Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra and P.Rathinam v. Union of India, wherein the Court held that, every right involves within its ambit a negative right therefore right die is a part of right to life under Article 21 and hence section 309 IPC is unconstitutional.

  • Furthermore, they submitted that, the execution of Living Will a document in which a person states his desire to have or not to have extraordinary life prolonging measures used when recovery is not possible from his terminal condition, has become necessary in order to help the doctors to determine if they have to prolong the treatment when there are no chances of recovery.

The respondents rebutting the arguments of the petitioner submitted that,

  • The Hippocratic oath taken by the doctors at the time of joining the profession stands against the concept of euthanasia
  • Technological advancements always leave a chance of recovery to the ill patient
  • A wish of a person to die is temporary and not permanent
  • Wish of euthanasia by a mentally ill patient/in depression may be treatable by good psychiatric care.
  • Performance of euthanasia might leave a psychological trauma in minds of the doctors who perform it.
  • Euthanasia is against the religious principles therefore if legalised would affect the rights under Article 25.

Upon hearing the parties to the case, the Court held that right to die is a part of right to life and issued the following guidelines:

  • In case of a competent person his right to refuse medical treatment flows from his right to life under Article 21.
  • But in case of an incompetent person the decision has to be taken by the Court by applying the principle of parens patriae which means “parent of the nation” in the best interest of the patient.
  • High Courts under Article 226 will be permitted to entertain a plea seeking euthanasia along with the suggestions from a panel of doctors.
  • Right to die being a decision pertaining to the physical and mental wellbeing of an individual does not affect the rights under Article 25.

With regard to execution of Living Will the Court issued the following guidelines:

  • Every person who is not a minor may execute his Living Will.
  • A Living Will executed by the individual can be cancelled by him at anytime after execution at his own discretion.
  • Any advance directive made contrary to any law for the time being in force shall be void.
  • The Will executed by a person can be used only when he loses his mental capacity to take decisions in his best interest.

The Court finally declared that sections 309 and 306 stands valid with regard to persons who are not terminally ill.

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