Common Cause (A registered society) v. Union of India and Another
Citation: (2018) 5 Supreme Court Cases 1
Court: Supreme Court of India
Bench: Dipak Misra, C.J; Dr. A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar, Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, JJ.
Counsels for Petitioner: Mr. Prashant Bhushan
Counsel for Union of India: Additional Solicitor General, Mr. P.S. Narasimha
The Court also heard Mr. Arvind Datar, Senior Counsel and Mr. Devansh Mohta, Counsel, who have supported the cause in the petition.
Date of Judgement:
Decided on March 9, 2018
In 2005, a registered NGO filed a PIL in the Supreme court under Art 32 of the Constitution to legalise 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 modern technology has given rise to 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.
- · Whether Art 21 which guarantees 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 between passive and active euthanasia?
- · Whether an individual has any right to refuse medical treatment including withdrawal from life saving devices?
Article 21 of the Constitution of India
The Common Cause Society contended that right to die with dignity was within the fold of right to live with dignity which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. Further, it was argued that every individual is entitled to take decisions about continuance or discontinuance of his life when the process of death has already commenced and he has reached an irreversible permanent progressive state where death is not far away. It has been stated due to the advancement of modern medical technology pertaining to medical science and respiration, a situation has been created where the dying process of the patient is unnecessarily prolonged causing distress and agony to the patient as well as to the family.
The Union of India has put forth arguments as well to state that while serious thought has been given to regulating euthanasia, there are reasons due to which it is not favourable. It has been contended that voluntary killing of patients is against the Hippocratic oath of doctors. Further, the wish to die in a patient may be fleeting in nature and may not be persistent due to depression and that suffering is a state of mind which varies from person to person. It has also been argued whether doctors have the right to claim that they have enough knowledge and experience that the disease is incurable and the patient in permanently invalid. In furtherance to this, it is possible that the medical officers who would be required to conduct euthanasia might face psychological pressure and trauma. It has also been stated by the State that right to life does not include the right to die and that saving life is the primary duty of the State.
The court ruled that Art 21 guarantees right to life with dignity and it should also include right to die with dignity. 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. Declaring right to die with dignity as a fundamental right would help in reducing the pains of those suffering from chronic treatments and they will be able to die in a dignified manner. Further the court issued guidelines regarding the execution of living will and their authentication which can be done by the magistrate. The court emphasised on the concept of self-determination and held that every adult is the master of his body and any person who is mentally fit and competent enough can execute advance medical directives in such situation. The apex court cleared its view that any medical practitioner is not allowed to take life of the patient through any drug or medicine for relieving such person from pain or discomfort. However, court allowed that a person who doesn’t want to take artificial life support system is permitted to exercise his right to die with dignity. The court differentiated between active and passive euthanasia by stating that in active euthanasia something is done to end a patient’s life but in passive euthanasia something is not done to maintain his life. The court accepted the contentions of the Government of India about the idea of living will be unacceptable. It was observed that the concept could be misused by the family and that it was against public policy and that doctors have an ethical duty to save the life of a patient. Thus, the court has allowed for passive euthanasia and it was held that right to die with dignity goes hand in hand with the right to live with dignity.
The court took into consideration the interest of people and supported the idea of passive euthanasia. There are a lot of questions which arise with regard to passive euthanasia about religious philosophy as well as the concept of informed consent. But the court has made a judgement in the right direction by stating that right to die in a dignified manner is as important as right to live in a dignified manner. Thus, right to die in a dignified manner has been included under the purview of Art 21.