The right to life is a fundamental basic human right. It is a fundamental right protected by Article 21 of Part-III of the Indian Constitution. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that – ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law’. Now, the Indian judiciary has interpreted this right to life in a variety of ways to include several new rights, such as the right to live with human dignity, the right to livelihood, the right to shelter, the right to privacy, the right to food, the right to education, the right to get pollution-free air and water, and a few other rights that are quite essential to improve the condition of people's lives, i.e. for the true enjoyment of the right to life.
Today there are several debates surrounding the issue, like does it encompass the right not to live or the right to die? This is the pivotal stage where moral, legal, medical, and even political problems are debated.
When it comes to grasping the concept of life, it's no longer enough to just exist and breathe. A great deal of substance has been added to the concept of living, and now the emphasis is on leading a life that is both dignified and meaningful.
Article 21 has been interpreted by the Court in the broadest possible terms, notably with regard to the concept of "right to life." In Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. & Ors. it was held that the word 'life' in Article 21 means right to live with human dignity and it does not merely connote continued drudgery. The concept of right to life has been elevated above "mere animal existence."
Various Judgements and Developments
Aruna Shaunbag Case erupted debates surrounding Euthanasia
Active Euthanasia: Additionally known as positive or aggressive euthanasia. This sort of euthanasia involves a positive act or affirmative action or an act of commission including the use of fatal drugs or forces to directly cause the intentional death of a person. This sort of euthanasia entails taking explicit measures to cause the patient's death, such as injecting the patient with a poison.
Passive Euthanasia: Also known as non-aggressive euthanasia and negative euthanasia. This sort of euthanasia involves the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining measures or medical therapy. In active euthanasia, a specific act is performed to end the patient's life, whereas passive euthanasia occurs when a necessary measure to preserve the patient's life is not taken.
The two Judge Bench in the case of Aruna Shanbaug had observed that the legal position across the world seems to be that while active euthanasia is illegal unless there is a legislation which permits it, passive euthanasia is legal even without any legislation, provided certain conditions and safeguards are maintained. The majority of nations have legalised passive euthanasia through law or judicial interpretations, however it is now unclear whether active euthanasia should also be accorded legal status. In this case, the court determined that passive euthanasia is only lawful when the patient is clinically "dead." This judgement paved the way for passive Euthanasia in India.
241st Law Commission Report
After the Aruna Shanbaug ruling, the Law Commission of India released its 241st report, which addressed Passive Euthanasia.The report's introduction addresses the notion of euthanasia. In its findings, the Commission cited the observations made by the then-Chairman of the Law Commission in a letter dated August 28, 2006 written to the Honorable Minister. The letter discusses how a terminally sick patient has the right under common law to forgo contemporary medical procedures and allow nature to take its course.
This report notes that a rational and humane perspective should take precedence in such a complicated situation. In the majority of countries, passive euthanasia is permitted for both competent and incompetent patients, provided that the doctor acts in the patient's best interest. The principle of the patient's autonomy (or the right to self-determination) and self-beneficence are taken into consideration.
Although this Report recognises passive euthanasia in India, no legislation has yet been adopted. In India, active euthanasia is a illegal . Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the attempt to commit suicide and Section 306 of the IPC deals with abetment of suicide – both actions are punishable. Only brain-dead patients can be removed from life support with the assistance of family members.
Common Cause and Right to die
Concerning the right to die with dignity, Common Cause, a registered organisation, wrote to the Ministries of Law & Justice, Health & Family Welfare, Company Affairs, and State Governments in 2002.
In 2005, Common Cause petitioned the Supreme Court under Article 32 for a ruling that Article 21's right to die with dignity is a fundamental right. It further requested that the court provide directives to the Union Government allowing terminally ill people to execute "living wills" in the event that they are hospitalised. As an alternative, Common Cause requested that the Supreme Court provide guidelines on this matter and form a team of attorneys, doctors, and social scientists to examine the subject of executing living wills.
Common Cause advocated that terminally ill or chronically ill patients should not be exposed to brutal treatments. Depriving them of the right to die with dignity prolongs their pain. It urged the court to protect the right to a dignified death by permitting such individuals to make an informed decision through a living will.
On March 9, 2018, a five-judge bench consisting of the Chief Justice of India, A. K. Sikri, A. M. Khanvilkar, D. Y. Chandrachud, and Ashok Bhushan JJ determined that the right to die with dignity is a fundamental right.
In India, like in the rest of the world, medical research is advancing, and so we now have devices that can artificially prolong life. This may indirectly prolong terminal suffering and may also prove to be very costly for the families of the subject in question. Consequently, end-of-life issues are becoming serious ethical concerns in India's modern medical research. Proponents and opponents of euthanasia are just as active in India as they are elsewhere in the world. However, the Indian legislative appears insensitive to these issues. The momentous Supreme Court decision has handed a significant boost to pro-euthanasia supporters, but there is still a long way to go before it is passed by the legislature. In addition, worries over its misuse remain a serious issue that must be addressed prior to its legalisation in our country.