Writ Petition SummaryEuthanasia and the Right to Die with Dignity
Background and Issues
Common Cause, the NGO, filed this petition in public interest before the Supreme Court to highlight the suffering of patients with terminal medical conditions whose natural life is being artificially prolonged by unwanted medical procedures.
The Supreme Court has previously recognized that the right to life includes a right to life with dignity. The Court has also held that while the right to life does not include the right to die, it includes the right to dignity until the end of one’s natural life. This petition argues that when a life is prolonged artificially without accounting for the wishes of the patient, it is lacking in dignity. In such a state, patients lack consciousness, and so the decision to prolong their suffering is made on their behalf by medical officers , or their families.
This petition asks for the Court to declare passive euthanasia to be legal. It states that it is not seeking the legalization of active euthanasia, which requires an action such as injecting lethal medicines to put an end to one’s natural life. Conversely, passive euthanasia means that no action will be taken to artifically prolong a person’s natural life, when it is ebbing out of the patient.
The petition clearly states that it is interested in making passive euthanasia available as a choice to patients. It suggests the implementation of policies for living wills- these are documents patients may sign if they wish to, to indicate what medical procedures can and cannot be performed on them if they reach a state in which they are unable to communicate their choice in the matter.
What do the Petitioners seek?
The petitioners seek that the Court constitute an expert committee of experts including doctors, sociai scientists and lawyers to study living wills, and passive euthanasia.
The Petitioners seek that the Court issue guidelines for the implementation of living wills and passive euthanasia.
Right to die with dignity
It is a well-settled understanding that the right to life under Article 21 does not mean mere existence. It includes a life of dignity. The petitioners argue that the right to dignity continues until the end of one’s natural life. When one’s natural life has started to ebb out of them due to old age or terminal illness, an artificially prolonged life without their consent does not afford them dignity. The Supreme Court has held that the right to life does not include the right to die.The petitioners argue that even though the right to die is not included in the right to life, the right to life with dignity must include the right to die with dignity.
Right to Liberty
Along with protecting the right to life and liberty of people, Article 21 also casts upon the state the obligation to protect life and liberty. The petitioners argue that the right to life with liberty ensures that the state, in the interest of fulfilling its obligation to protect life, cannot force anyone to undergo medical treatment against their wishes. They argue that people must have the choice to refuse medical procedures to prolong their life if they become only physiologically alive, but permanently mentally/emotionally unresponsive. The denial of such a choice violates the right to liberty enshrined in Article 21.
Right to Privacy
The petitioners argue that the right to make decisions about intimate and private matters such as undergoing medical procedures to prolong one’s natural life is included in the right to privacy. This means that people must be allowed to make this decision for themselves.
Right to Freely Practise One’s Profession
The petitioners also briefly argue that medical professionals are constrained to continue medical treatment to prolong natural life even when they know it will only lead to suffering for the patient. This violates their right to freely practise their profession. They also mention that when limited medical resources are directed towards artificially prolonging the natural lives of patients who cannot recover, others who can use the same resources to recover are denied. This violates their right to life under Article 21.