Does Right to Life include Right to Die?

Just the chance to be alive on this earth and play a part in the grand scheme of God’s eternal plan is a privilege indeed.

The constitution of India provides each and every person a right to live. According to the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution,” No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”. The question that arises here is whether Right to life include Right to Die? The phrase “Right to Die” often make us think of two basic aspects i.e. Euthanasia and Suicide. Euthanasia has no traces in the Indian constitution, but many a times we can see the Indian judiciary witnessing cases subject to section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.

The recent judgement of Aruna Shanbaug case[1] gave a proper insight and the true definition to this case. The judgement in this case stated that the concept of Euthanasia does not imply that a person can enforce his or her Right to Die, but it’s when someone closely related to the individual is trying to enforce it for him or her. That is, a close acquaintance of the individual can approach the court in the name of the “Next Friend”, if in case the individual is in a permanent vegetative state. When it comes to Right to die, the relevance of Euthanasia is quite invisible but it cannot be neglected.

Article 21 of the Indian constitution

When Article 21 comes into consideration, the famous passport case i.e. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[2] comes into one’s mind. In this landmark case, the court interpreted the term ‘liberty’. Although, in this case, the liberty here was the liberty to travel abroad, it was understood and interpreted that liberty is the freedom to do something. For many people, life is not merely existence. For them, to live a life in a death bed is not a life. But then again, if we interpret Right to Life include Right to die, in one way or another, Right to Life looses its essence.

In the case, the State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubal[3], it was held that the Right to Life was inclusive of Right to Die. This judgement was then over-ruled by Chenna Jagdishwar v. State of Andhra Pradesh[4]. It was held that Right to Die is not a Fundamental Right within the meaning of Article 21.

When the Right to Life is restricted on the basis of Right to live a life that one does not wish to live, is infringing the Fundamental Right in one way or another. In P. Rathinam v. Union of India[5] over-ruled the Chenna Jagdishwar v. State of Andhra Pradesh and expanded the scope of Article 21 i.e. Right to Life include Right to live a forced life.

Section 309 and 306 of IPC

Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) punishes the person who attempts suicide and Section 306 of the IPC punishes the one who is abbeting to commit suicide.

In State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubal[6], it was held that Right to Life is inclusive of Right to die by stricking Section 309 of IPC. According to the judgement, if the motive of the prescribed punishment is to prevent suicides by deterants, it is difficult to understand how the same motive can be achieved. Similarly, in the case P. Rathinam v. Union of India[7]upheld the view that Section 309 of the IPC is a cruel and highly irrational provision that violates Article 21 of the constitution.

Is Right to Life inclusive of Right to Die?

A question may arise, in case of a dying man. A personwho is seriously ill or has been suffering from any incurable form of disease, he may be permitted to terminate or end it by a premature extinction of his life in those circumstances. Such type of cases falls in the ambit of ‘Right to Die’ with dignity as a part of life with dignity. Living with dignity has always been human being’s greatest necessities. According to the court, these are not just cases of extinguishing life but the cases of accelerating the process of natural death which has already commenced.

The judiciary fears that by granting ‘Right to Die’, the chances of misusing this right will became higher. But these fears cannot be accepted in its entirety for denying someone his Right to Die.


Ultimately, the aim should be to formulate or evolve a conceptual model effectively handling the evils and abysmal vibrations without sacrificing human rights. Right to Life is a Fundamental Right, and the Right to Die is often violated in the name of it. The law should not restrict a man’s wish to live or to die. For a person living in a state of coma, the next best thing that can be offered to him is a peaceful death. What is the point of our Rights and laws, if such a minimum courtesy is not granted to a person?

But, one cannot neglect the chances of violation of such a right. Certain rules and restrictions need to be imposed in order to enforce such a right. The landmark judgement of Aruna Shanbaug’s case should be taken into consideration, wherein the court has laid down certain restrictions while allowing the performance of Euthanasia.

[1]Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, (2011) 4 SCC 454

[2] AIR 1978 SC 597

[3] 1987 Cr LJ 549

[4] 1988 CRLJ 549 A.P

[5] 1994 AIR 1844

[6] 1987 (1) BomCR 499

[7]1994 AIR 1844

Authored by  Saumya Bhardwaj | Edited by Shreya Mishra.


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