SC notice to States on right to die with dignity

July 17, 2014 03:45 am | Updated November 17, 2021 02:46 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice to all States and Union Territories seeking their response to decide an important question: whether the right to die with dignity was part of the right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution (right to life and liberty).

A Constitution Bench, comprising Chief Justice R.M. Lodha and Justices J.S. Khehar, J. Chelameswar, A.K. Sikri and Rohinton Nariman, issued notice on a petition filed by Common Cause, a non-governmental organisation, after hearing counsel Prashant Bhushan and Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi.

Mr. Bhushan submitted that persons with chronic terminal diseases and likely to go into a permanent vegetative state must have the right to execute a “living will” to refuse treatment and die. He contended that when a medical expert opined that the person with the terminal disease had reached a point of no return, then he or she should be given the right to refuse being put on a life-support system.

Mr. Rohatgi submitted that passive euthanasia was a form of suicide which could not be allowed as it would amount to an offence. The issue pertained not only to the Constitution but also involved morality, religion and medical science and social issues.

Mr. Rohatgi said the right to die merely because of pain and suffering would not be in the interest of society and was against public policy. Only Parliament could make any change in the law. The ruling in the Aruna Shanbaug case, upholding the validity of passive euthanasia, was wrong. If legalised, euthanasia would be misused in the country. Further, when to stop medical treatment was not something easily decided. The legislature had to debate and decide the matter.

The Chief Justice drew the attention of counsel to the fact that what was the least painful way to bring life to an end was debatable. Many discussions had been held, but no unanimous finding was reached.

Considering the important questions of law to be decided, senior advocate T.R. Andhyarujina was appointed amicus curiae to assist the court.

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