Common Cause vs. Union of India

In the Supreme Court of India
Civil original jurisdiction
Case No.
Writ petition (Civil) No. 215 of 2005
Petitioner
Common Cause and Anr.
Respondent
Union of India anr.
Date of Judgement
Decided on March 9th, 2018
Bench
Dipak Misra, CJI; Justice A.K Sikri; Justice D. Y Chandrachud; Justice Ashok Bhushan  & Justice A.M Khanwilkar

Synopsis

In the year 2005, Common Cause a registered society for the common welfare of people filed a writ petition under Art.32 of the Indian Constitution to legalize Passive Euthanasia and to legally validate living wills. In this regard, the Supreme Court of India held that the right to die with dignity is a fundamental right and a part of Art.21. The Bench further held that passive euthanasia and a living will are legally valid. The Court issued detailed guidelines in this regard.

Passive euthanasia differs from active euthanasia as in case of active euthanasia something is done to end the patient’s life while in the case of active euthanasia something is not done that if done would have protected the patient’s life. And living wills are the written documents that allow patients to give explicit instructions with regard to the medical treatment to be administered when they are not able to express informed consent.

Prior to this, a five Judge Bench of Supreme Court in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab held that both euthanasia and assisted suicide are unlawful in India and overruled the judgement given in the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India where the Court held that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution does not include right to die. But later in Aruna ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India the Supreme Court held that passive euthanasia can be allowed under certain exceptional circumstances under the strict monitoring of the Court.

Facts

In 2005, a registered NGO filed PIL in the Supreme Court under Art.32 of the Indian constitution to legalize living will and passive euthanasia. Prior to this the registered society wrote letters to ministry of law and justice, ministry of health and family welfare with regard to passive euthanasia. The petitioners received no response from the government and thus filed the PIL. The petitioner’s contended that the right to live with dignity is a person’s right till his death so it can be extended to include the right to have a dignified death. And that the modern technology has given rise such a situation whereby life of the patient is unnecessarily prolonged causing distress and agony to the patient and his relatives. 

The petitioners further contended for legalizing living wills whereby a person undergoing persistent pain and suffering can write about the medical treatment and authorize the family to stop such treatment. 

Issues

  • Whether Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees the Right to Life includes the Right to Die?
  • Whether passive euthanasia should be permitted on the living will of patient?
  • Whether there is any difference in passive euthanasia and active euthanasia?
  • Whether an individual has any right to refuse medical treatment including withdrawal from life saving devices

Arguments

Arguments in favour of petitioners:

  • Every individual has a right to self-determination, and thus should be permitted to choose their own fate.
  • The modern medical technology has found out so many drugs and medicines that unnecessarily prolong life of causing a lot of distress and agony to the patients and his/her relatives thereof.
  • It is better to die rather than being under persistent pain and suffering using medication that does not cure but prolongs the life of patients.
  • In cases of incurable, degenerative, disabling or debilitating condition a person should be allowed to die in dignity as in majority of the cases the mercy petition is filed by the sufferers, of the family members or any such caretakers. The burden upon the family is so huge and cuts across various domains such as financial, emotional, time, physical, mental and social aspects.
  • Right to refuse medical treatment is well recognized in law, including medical treatment that sustains or prolongs life. The right to renounce treatment gives a way for passive euthanasia.
  • Euthanasia in terminally ill patients provides an opportunity to advocate for organ donation. This, in turn, would help many patients suffering organ failure waiting for transplantation. Passive euthanasia not only gives an individual the ‘Right to die ‘for the terminally ill, but also ‘Right to life‘for the organ-needy patients.

Arguments In favour of the Respondent

  • not all deaths are painful;
  • The ‘Right to life’ under Art.21 is a natural right inherited on birth by every citizen , but euthanasia/suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life and, therefore it is hostile and inconsistent with the concept of ‘right to life’ and thus Right to life does not include right to die.
  • It is the duty of the State to protect life and euthanasia would undermine the physician’s duty to provide care and save life of the patients.
  • Allowing euthanasia will discourage the search and invention of new cures and treatments for the terminally ill and thus there won’t be any prospect with regard to the discovery of possible cure for the disease in near future.
  • Euthanasia would weaken society’s respect for the sanctity of life.
  • There is availability of alternatives, such as cessation of active treatment, combined with the use of effective pain relief

Judgement

The Supreme Court in this case held that an individual has a right to die with dignity as a part of his/her Right to life and personal liberty under Art.21 of the Indian Constitution. This ruling thus permits the removal of life-support systems for the terminally ill or those in incurable comas. The court further permitted individuals to decide against artificial life support, and recognized the need for creating a living will.

The Court in this particular case further laid down certain propositions regarding the procedure for execution of Advance Directives and provided the guidelines thereof to give effect to passive euthanasia.

Case Comment

The concept of passive euthanasia is quite controversial and raises an array of sophisticated moral, ethical, social, philosophical, legal and religious concerns. Broadly there are two groups formed with regard to passive euthanasia. The first one is the regional group which does not recognize a right to die, believing life to be a divine gift.

The second one relates to the requirement of consent. The capacity of terminally-ill patients to give informed consent for their own killing is often questioned. As a reason in the past there have been many campaigns relating to euthanasia some for its support while others for its withdrawal. However taking into account the interest of people, laws have been laid down in support of euthanasia. Though this concept opposes the religious beliefs but considered beneficial to the society. In this regard there is a clash between law and religion. In cases of unreasonable and unjustifiable practices law prevails over religion.

Therefore this is a judgment in right direction.  Those suffering from chronic diseases are often subjected to persistent pain and suffering and the treatments where there is no cure but only medication and treatment that only prolongs life.  Denying them the right to die in a dignified manner extends their suffering. Hence, the court is right in declaring Right to Die with Dignity as a Fundamental Right as it would help in reducing the pains of those suffering from chronic treatments and they will be able to die in a dignified manner.

Edited by J. Madonna Jephi

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

 

 

Previous articleStandard Form of Contracts
Next articleDecriminalization of Adultery case
I'm Sree Ramya, a Law graduate from the University College of Law, Osmania University. The sphere of Criminal Law, Corporate Law, Constitutional Law, and Environmental Law attracts me the most. My pastime activities are reading books, playing chess, watching movies, and writing poems on contemporary social issues. Other than this I participate in almost all literary competitions and I enjoy attending seminars and conferences. Most importantly I am a good listener with a lot of patience.