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Case Description

A Constitution Bench decided if the right to life with dignity under Article 21 includes a right to die with dignity.

Background

In 2002, Common Cause, a registered society had written to the Ministries of Law & Justice, Health & Family Welfare, and Company Affairs, also addressing the State Governments, on the issue of the right to die with dignity.

In 2005, Common Cause approached the Supreme Court under Article 32, praying for the declaration that the right to die with dignity is a fundamental right under Article 21. It also prayed 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.

Common Cause argued that terminally ill persons or those suffering from chronic diseases must not be subjected to cruel treatments. Denying them the right to die in a dignified manner extends their suffering. It prayed the Court to secure the right to die with dignity by allowing such persons to make an informed choice through a living will.

On 25th February 2014, a 3 Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising the then Chief Justice P. Sathasiavn, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh had referred the matter to a larger bench, to settle the issue in light of inconsistent opinions in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India & Ors (2011) and Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab (1996).

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.

Issues

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

Can euthanasia be made lawful only by legislation?

What is the difference between passive euthanasia and active euthanasia?

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.

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