COMMON CAUSE ( A REGISTERED SOCIETY) v UNION OF INDIA (CASE BRIEF)



EUTHANASIA & RIGHT TO DIE WITH DIGNITY

Common Cause (a regd. Society) v Union of India

Judges: Dipak Misra, AM Khanvilkar, DY Chandrachud, AK Sikri, Ashok Bhushan

Case-Number: WP (C) 215/2005

 

ISSUES

1. Whether Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees the Right to Life includes the Right to Die.

2. Can euthanasia be made lawful only by legislation?

3. What is the difference between passive euthanasia and active euthanasia?

4. Can individuals be allowed to give 'Advance Directives', i.e. directives on medical treatment if they become incompetent or unable to communicate in the future.

 

In 2002, Common Cause (a registered society), wrote to the ministries of Health & Family Welfare, Law & Justice and Company Affairs on the issue of right to die with dignity. Three years later, it approached the Apex Court u/a 32 to declare the Right to Die with Dignity as a fundamental right u/a 21 of the Constitution.  It also requested the Court to issue directions to the Union Government to allow terminally ill patients to execute 'living wills' for appropriate action in the event that they are admitted to hospitals. As an alternative, Common Cause sought guidelines from the Court on this issue, and the appointment of an expert committee comprising lawyers, doctors, and social scientists to determine the aspect of executing living wills.

The argument put forth by the petitioners was that patients suffering from chronic ailments should not be subjected to cruel treatments. The denial of their right to die with dignity increases and extends their suffering. They requested the court to grant them this right by allowing them to make informed choices through living wills.

In February 2014, a three-judge bench of the SC sought this case to be transferred to a larger bench, to settle the issues mentioned above in the light of contradicting opinions in Aruna Shanbaug’s Case and Gian Kaur verdict.

On 9th March 2018, a 5 Judge Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A. M. Khanvilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan held that the right to die with dignity is a fundamental right. An individual's right to execute advance medical directives is an assertion of the right to bodily integrity and self-determination and does not depend on any recognition or legislation by a State.

Right to life and liberty as envisaged under Article 21 of the Constitution is meaningless unless it encompasses within its sphere individual dignity. the right to live with dignity also includes the smoothening of the process of dying in case of a terminally ill patient or a person in PVS (Permanently Vegetative State) with no hope of recovery. When passive euthanasia as a situational palliative measure becomes applicable, the best interest of the patient shall override the State interest. 

By the powers conferred to the SC u/a 142 of the Constitution, it laid down the principles relating to the procedure for execution of Advance Directive and provided the guidelines to give effect to passive euthanasia unless the Parliament enacts a specific legislation in this area.