Right to die and Article 21 of Indian constitution -
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of his life or Personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. Ordinarily the word 'law' in Article 21 denotes ' enacted law ' means laws made by legislature. The word law in Article 21would includes an Ordinance. The law must be just, faire and reasonable , not taking away the life of Personal liberty of an individual.
The word procedure for the purpose of Article 21 also must be just, fair and reasonable and not arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive . It has been held by the court in Maneka Gandhi's case that procedure be right , just and fair, must conform to natural justice.
Indian Penal Code section 309 provide punishment for attempt to commit suicide. It says whoever attempt to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offense ,shall be punished with the simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both. The office is cognizable, bailable , non-compoundable and a triable by magistrate .
Question raised.. Whether Section 309 of IPC is violative to Article 14, 19 and 21? whether Section 309 is unconstitutional or not ?
If article 21 confers on a person the right to live dignified life and does it also confer a right to not live if a person chooses to end his life? if so then what is the fate of the provision in Indian penal code making attempt to commit suicide punishable?
In P.Rathinam vs Union of India AIR 1994 SC. 1844..
A two judge bench of Supreme Court took Cognizance of contradiction between section 309 IPC and Article 21. The court ruled that the right to life embodied in article 21 also embodied in it a right not to live. a forced life, to his detriment, disadvantage or disliking.
This view constituted and authority for the proposition that an individual has the right to do as he pleases with his life and that to end if if he so pleases .Section 309 of IPC therefore violate Article.21 and hence void.
The decision of P.Rathinam was a radical view but could not last for long and it came to review by a whole bench of the court in Guan kaur. The question arose if attempt to commit suicide is not regarded as a penal then what happens to someone who abets suicide? Abetment to commit suicide is made punishable under section.306 of IPC but then, if the principal offens of attempting to commit suicide is void as being unconstitutional then how could abetment thereof be punishable logically?
This controversy is set at rest by the Supreme Court in the famous Case. Chandra Bhushan and Gian kaur .
Shrimati Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab with Chandra Bhushan vs State of Maharashtra and four others appellants AIR 1996 Supreme Court.946.
In Gian kaur case Gian Kaur and her husband were convicted under section 306 IPC. for abetting commission of suicide by Kulwant, their daughter-in-law. It was argued that the ' right to die' having been included in article 21(Rathinam) , and section 309 having been declared unconstitutional, any person orbiting the commission of suicide by another is merely assisting in the enforcement of his fundamental right under Article 21 . That is sufficient to declare Article 306 IPC , as unconstitutional being violative of Article 21. This argument led to the consideration of Raattinam ruling and it's eventual overruling .
The court has ruled In Gian kaur that Article 21 is provision guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty and by no stretch of the imagination can extinction of life be read to be included in protection of life. The court has observed that-
"...... right to life is a natural right embodied in Article 21. but suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life and therefore incompatible, contrary and inconsistent with the concept of right to life ."
The Court has ruled that section 309 IPC., is not unconstitutional. According section 306 IPC has also been held to be constitutional.
The constitutional bench of Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of section 309 IPC. in Lokendra Singh vs State of Madhya Pradesh, (1996 ) 2 SCC 648.
In Gian kaur , the Supreme Court has distinguished between euthanasia and attempt to commit suicide. Euthanasia is termination of life of a person who is terminally ill, or in a persistent vegetative state. In such case, death due to termination of natural life is certain and imminent.
Thus the ' right to die' is not included in right to life under Article 21. Thus right to live with human dignity cannot be construed to include within its ambit the right to terminate natural life, at least before the commencement of natural process of certain deaths.
S.306 of IPC for abetment of suicide is not unconstitutional not violative to Article 21. Section 309 of IPC providing punishment for attempt to commit suicide is not violative to article 21.