Right to Life =Right to Die?


The Article 21 of the Constitution states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.[1] The term’ Life’ under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution does not mean only a mere animal existence rather it means the right to life with human dignity, right to privacy, right to livelihood, right to compensation etc. It ensures all advantages and benefits that will make life better or agreeable. However, in the present context the Court recognized the Passive Euthanasia not an Active Euthanasia. At present most of the youngsters falling in love or due to some other activities they try to commit suicide. This context also gains the limelight during the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case.

Keywords: Constitution, Euthanasia, Supreme Court, Life.


 The Supreme Court described it as the heart of the Indian Constitution. In State of Maharashtra V.  Maruty Sripati Dubal[2]the question whether the Right to Life includes the Right to Die under Article 21 of the Constitution. In this case the Bombay Police Constable was mentally deranged and was refused permission to set up a shop and earn a living, these results in the frustration to police constable. Out of Frustration he tried to set himself on fire in the corporation’s office room and police charged him for an attempt to suicide. “The Bombay High Court held that the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution includes Right to Die, and consequently the Court struck down the Section 309 of Indian Penal Code[3] which provides punishment for attempt to commit suicide by a person as unconstitutional.”

Perspective under Indian Scenario

The Indian Constitution only allows the Right to Life not the Right to Die. The court in many cases concluded that the right to live does not include a forced life and it has made certain exceptions such as very painful diseases etc. The court further emphasized that “attempt to commit suicide is in reality a cry for help and not for punishment. But the punishment is specifically prescribed under Section 309 of Indian Penal Code.

Summary of Leading Cases with Important Issue

 However this was overruled by the Andhra Pradesh high court in Chenna Jagadeeshwar v. State of Andhra Pradesh[4]and held that right to die is not a fundamental right within the meaning of Article 21 and hence Section 309 of Indian Penal Code is not unconstitutional.

But In P. Rathinam v. Union of India[5], a two-judge Division Bench of the Supreme Court took cognizance of the contradiction between Sec. 309, I.P.C., and Art. 21. The Court supported the decision of the Bombay High Court in Maruti Sripati Dubal’s Case held that the right to life embodies in Art. 21 also contain in it a right not to live a forced life, to his detriment disadvantage or disliking which will suffer him in whole life.

The court argued that the word life in Art. 21 means right to live with human dignity and the same does not merely connote continued slavery. However, Court rejected the plea that euthanasia (mercy killing) should be permitted by law.

Questions Raised on Concept of Right to Die

This Judgment by the Supreme Court somehow allowed suicide and give the way head but what about its effect on the young immature minds which tend to act or react in desperate haste? Again suicide in owing to frustration in love, failure in examinations and failure to get a job or even a good job or promotions in service would raise different problems. So now the question arises: Is Individual capable of taking a decision to end his life in such conditions? Does he not owe a responsibility towards society to live for them?

The court in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab[6]overruled the P. Rathinam’s case and held that” the Right to Life under Article 21 of the constitution does not include right to die or right to be killed and it is a punishable offence under Section 309 of Indian Penal Code.” The Court Stated that “The right to die”, is inherently inconsistent with the right to life as is “death with life.”[7] The one argument was raised that it was violative of the Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The court said that there was no sufficient ground that can prove that it was a violative of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

In Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaugh v. Union of India,[8] a writ petition was filed by Ms. Pinki Virani of Mumbai claiming to be the next friend of the victim with a prayer for direction to let her friend die peacefully as she has remained stable for many years. The victim who was a staff nurse in King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai was attacked by sweeper of a hospital by wrapping a dog chain around her neck and raped her. Victim remained unconscious due to brain injury. The Court held that the right to life does not include right to life and it allows only the passive euthanasia when the things become worsen.

Guidelines by the Supreme Court of India-:

 The Court led down the law of passive euthanasia to continue till the law made by the parliament, were as follows -:

  • A decision has to be taken by the parents, spouse, brothers and sisters or close relatives including the close friend of the victim. Their decision requires the approval of the Court.
  • If Hospital doctors and nurse were taking care for a long time, they may also take the decision but they should apply to the Court for an approval of the decision to withdraw life support.
  • The intention must be Bona fide in the best interest of the victim.


The Court made it a clear distinction between the active euthanasia and passive euthanasia. The people of the country must not confuse between the passive euthanasia as it indicates that not doing necessary to preserve the life whereas active euthanasia indicates an attempt to end the life of the patient. The Right to Life does not include the Right to Die under Article 21 of the constitution as no law has been made by the parliament of the country in this respect. It is a punishable offence under Section 309 of Indian Penal Code.


  • J.N. Pandey, the Constitutional law of India
  • D.D. Basu, Commentary on Constitution of India, 1970
  • Precedence by the Supreme Court of India
  • Amending power of the parliament with respect to the fundamental rights
  • Jstor.org
  • Westlaw India

[1] The Constitution of India, 1950, article 21

[2]State of Maharashtra V.  Maruty sripati Dubal,  AIR 1997 SC411(INDIA)

[3] Indian Penal Code , no. 45 of 1860, India Code section 309

[4] Chenna Jagadeeshwar v. State of Andhra PradeshAIR 1988 CrLJ 549 (INDIA)

[5]P. Rathinam v. Union of India[5] 1994 3 SCC 394(INDIA)

[6] Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab 1996 2 SCC 648 (INDIA)

[7] Ibid

[8] Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaugh v. Union of India AIR 2011 SC 1290 (INDIA)

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