Right To Die: Legal And Legislation In India
The right to die or euthanasia has been a subject of debate for many years in
India. Euthanasia is the act of intentionally ending a person's life to relieve
them of their suffering. In India, euthanasia is illegal under Section 309 of
the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes attempted suicide. However, the
Supreme Court of India has recognized the Right to die with dignity as a
fundamental right under the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by the
In India, the Right to Die has been a contentious issue, with conflicting views
from different sections of society. On one hand, there are those who argue that
individuals should have the right to decide when to end their suffering, while
on the other hand, opponents argue that such a right goes against the sanctity
of life and can be easily abused.
However, in 2011, the Supreme Court of India legalized passive euthanasia under
specific conditions. Passive euthanasia refers to withholding medical treatment
or life-sustaining measures that can artificially prolong a person's life. The
court held that a person can make an advance directive or a "living will"
expressing their desire to withhold medical treatment in case they become
terminally ill or are in a vegetative state.
The Supreme Court also established guidelines to regulate the process of passive
euthanasia, and a medical board is appointed to determine the medical condition
of the person and whether withholding treatment is in their best interest. In
addition, the court stated that the decision to withhold treatment should be
made by a close relative or a legal guardian if the person is unable to make
such a decision.
In 2018, a bill was introduced in the Indian parliament called the "Medical
Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical
Practitioners) Bill," which aimed to legalize both passive and active
euthanasia. However, the bill faced opposition and was eventually withdrawn.
There have been several attempts to legalize euthanasia in India, including the
introduction of the Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of
Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2021, which seeks to legalize both
passive and active euthanasia in certain circumstances. However, the bill has
not yet been passed into law.
Meaning Of Right To Die
The Right to Die refers to the concept that an individual has the right to make
the decision to end their life when faced with terminal illness, unbearable
suffering, or any other circumstances where their quality of life is severely
compromised. The right to die is often associated with euthanasia or assisted
suicide, where a person seeks assistance from a medical professional or loved
one to end their life in a peaceful and dignified manner. However, the Right to
Die is a highly debated topic, with differing opinions on the ethical, moral,
and legal implications of allowing a person to make the decision to end their
The concept of the Right to Die is often linked to euthanasia or assisted
suicide, which involves the deliberate intervention of a third party to end the
life of the person who wishes to die. However, there are different forms of the
Right to Die, including the right to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment or
to request the withdrawal of such treatment.
In some countries, the Right to Die has been legally recognized and regulated
through laws and policies, while in others, it remains a highly contentious
issue with no clear legal framework. The debate around the Right to Die is
complex and involves considerations of legal, ethical, moral, and religious
Right to Die Ought To Be
The Right to Die is a complex and sensitive issue that involves legal, ethical,
and moral considerations. Supporters argue that individuals have the right to
choose when and how they die, particularly when they are facing unbearable
suffering and poor quality of life due to terminal illness or chronic pain. They
contend that allowing individuals to end their lives through assisted suicide or
euthanasia can provide a humane and dignified way of dealing with their
Proponents of the Right to Die argue that individuals have the right to make
decisions about their own lives, including the decision to end their suffering
and pain when faced with a terminal illness or a poor quality of life. They
argue that allowing individuals to choose when and how they will die is a matter
of personal autonomy and dignity, and that denying this right is a violation of
basic human rights.
Opponents of the Right to Die argue that it goes against the sanctity of life
and that taking the life of another person, even with their consent, is morally
and ethically wrong. They also argue that allowing euthanasia or assisted
suicide can be easily abused and may lead to the wrongful death of vulnerable
individuals, such as the elderly or disabled.
Ultimately, the issue of the Right to Die is a complex and multifaceted one that
requires careful consideration of legal, ethical, and moral implications. While
some countries have recognized this right and have legalized assisted suicide or
euthanasia under certain circumstances, others have chosen to prohibit such
Future Perspective Of Right To Die In India
The future perspective of the Right to Die in India remains uncertain, as the
issue continues to be a highly debated and controversial one. While the Indian
Supreme Court has recognized the right to die with dignity and has upheld the
constitutional validity of passive euthanasia, active euthanasia and assisted
suicide remain illegal in India.
One possible direction for the future of the Right to Die in India is the
development of clearer legal guidelines and policies related to end-of-life
decisions. This may involve further clarification of the legal status of passive
euthanasia, as well as the development of legal and ethical frameworks to guide
decisions related to active euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Another possible direction is the development of greater public awareness and
education around end-of-life issues, including discussions around palliative
care, pain management, and the importance of advance directives. This may help
to empower individuals and their families to make informed decisions about their
end-of-life care and to ensure that their wishes are respected.
There have been some efforts to introduce legislation that would provide legal
protection for individuals who choose to end their lives, but these efforts have
not yet been successful. There is also a need for more public discourse and
education about the issue, as many people in India are still not familiar with
the concept of the Right to Die and the implications it has for end-of-life
The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the importance of the Right to Die
and end-of-life decision-making, as many individuals have had to make difficult
choices about their own care or the care of their loved ones. This may lead to
increased awareness and discussion about the issue in India and may pave the way
for future changes in the legal framework.
Ultimately, the future of the Right to Die in India will depend on a variety of
factors, including changing societal attitudes, legal and ethical
considerations, and advances in medical technology and palliative care.
Legal Framework Of Right To Die In India
In India, the legal framework for the Right to Die is based on several landmark
judgments by the Indian Supreme Court.
The following are the key legal
provisions related to the Right to Die in India:
- Right to Refuse Medical Treatment: In the 1994 case of P. Rathinam v. Union of
India, [i] the Supreme Court recognized the right of a person to refuse medical
treatment and the right to die with dignity. The court held that the right to
life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes the right to die with
dignity, and that an individual has the right to refuse medical treatment that
may prolong their life.
- Passive Euthanasia: In the 2011 case of Aruna Shanbaug v. Union of India, [ii]
the Supreme Court recognized the constitutional validity of passive euthanasia.
The court ruled that a person who is in a permanent vegetative state and has no
hope of recovery can be allowed to die through the withdrawal of life support
systems. The court laid down strict guidelines for the procedure and required
that the decision to withdraw life support systems be made by a high court bench
after considering medical reports and opinions of a team of doctors.
- Active Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: While passive euthanasia has been
recognized as legal under certain circumstances, active euthanasia and assisted
suicide remain illegal in India. The Supreme Court has held that such practices
are against the sanctity of life and can be easily abused. However, the court
has also noted that in certain cases, the withdrawal of life support systems may
result in a slow and painful death, which may be seen as a form of active
- Advance Directives: In 2018, the Supreme Court in the case of Common Cause v.
Union of India[iii] recognized the right of individuals to make advance
directives for end-of-life care. The court held that individuals have the right
to give instructions in advance about the medical treatment they wish to receive
in case they become terminally ill or are unable to express their wishes. The
court laid down guidelines for the creation and execution of advance directives
and required that they be registered with a government-appointed body.
- Living Wills: In 2018, the Supreme Court in the case of Common Cause (A Regd.
Society) v. Union of India[iv] recognized the concept of a "Living Will" or an
"Advance Directive" that allows individuals to express their wishes related to
end-of-life care. The court held that a person has the right to make an Advance
Directive specifying that they should not be put on life support if they are in
a vegetative state or if they have a terminal illness. The court also laid down
guidelines for the procedure of creating and executing Advance Directives.
- The Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and
Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2021: This proposed legislation seeks to provide a
legal framework for end-of-life care and treatment in India. It includes
provisions related to the right to refuse medical treatment, the right to die
with dignity, and the circumstances under which medical practitioners can
provide medical assistance to end the life of a terminally ill patient.
- Guidelines for the Management of End Of Life Care and Decision Making (2018):
These guidelines were issued by the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine and
provide guidance on the management of end-of-life care and decision-making. They
include recommendations related to the provision of palliative care,
communication with patients and families, and decision-making around end-of-life
However, the Supreme Court has also stated that active euthanasia, where a third
party intervenes to end the life of the person, is illegal and punishable under
Indian law. The court has held that such a practice is against the sanctity of
life and can be easily abused.
Overall, the legal framework related to the Right to Die in India is complex and
requires careful consideration of legal, ethical, and moral implications. While
passive euthanasia has been recognized as legal under certain circumstances,
active euthanasia and assisted suicide remain illegal in India. The proposed
legislation seeks to provide a clearer legal framework for end-of-life care and
decision-making in the country.
Constitutional Validity Of Right To Die
In its judgment, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of passive
euthanasia and laid down the following guidelines and procedures for the same:
- The Aruna Shanbaug v. Union of India:
Case is a landmark judgment by the Indian Supreme Court that laid down
guidelines for passive euthanasia in India. The case involved a nurse, Aruna
Shanbaug, who had been in a persistent vegetative state for over 40 years after
being sexually assaulted and strangled by a hospital ward boy. The hospital
staff who had been taking care of her had approached the court seeking
permission to withdraw life support systems and allow her to die peacefully.
- Passive euthanasia can be allowed under certain circumstances,
such as when a person is in a persistent vegetative state and has no
hope of recovery.
- The decision to withdraw life support systems must be taken by a
high court bench after considering medical reports and opinions of a
team of doctors.
- The decision to withdraw life support systems must be made in
the best interests of the patient and with due regard to their
wishes and preferences.
- The decision to withdraw life support systems must be taken
after taking into account the views of the patient's family members
and close relatives.
- The decision to withdraw life support systems must be made in a
transparent and accountable manner, with adequate safeguards to
- The withdrawal of life support systems must be carried out by
qualified medical professionals in a manner that is dignified and
respectful of the patient's rights and dignity.
The Aruna Shanbaug judgment has provided legal and ethical clarity on the
issue of passive euthanasia in India and has established a framework for
decision-making related to end-of-life care. However, the issue of active
euthanasia and assisted suicide remains illegal and is still subject to legal
and ethical debates in the country.
In conclusion, the Right to Die in India is a complex issue that involves legal,
ethical, and moral considerations. While the Indian Constitution recognizes the
right to life and personal liberty, the interpretation of this right in the
context of end-of-life care is subject to debate and legal interpretation.
The Supreme Court of India has recognized the right to die with dignity as part
of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, and has laid down
guidelines for passive euthanasia in the Aruna Shanbaug case. However, the issue
of active euthanasia and assisted suicide remains illegal and is still subject
to legal and ethical debates in the country.
The future of the Right to Die in India will depend on how the legal, ethical,
and moral debates surrounding the issue evolve over time, and how the Indian
judiciary and legislature respond to these debates. It is important for
stakeholders to continue engaging in constructive discussions and debates on
this issue, in order to ensure that the rights and dignity of individuals at the
end-of-life are respected and protected, while also ensuring that the sanctity
of life is maintained.
The Right to Die in India is a highly sensitive and emotional issue, and it
requires a balance between the autonomy of the individual and the sanctity of
life. There is a need for further legal and ethical clarity on the issue to
ensure that end-of-life care is provided in a manner that respects the dignity
and autonomy of the individual, while also upholding the principles of justice
Overall, while the Right to Die remains a controversial and divisive issue in
India, it is crucial to continue the discussions and debates to find a way
forward that respects individual rights, while also ensuring adequate safeguards
to prevent abuse and misuse of the law.
Written By: Sanjay Kumar Sah
- 1994 AIR 1844, 1994 SCC (3) 394
- AIR 2011 SC 1290
- (2018) 5 SCC
- (2018) 5 SCC 1, AIR 2018 SC 1665