Law · Society

Right to Life=Right to Die?

Right to Life is a universal moral principle which states that a person has all rights to live and he/she should not be deprived or killed by another human being or any such action caused by humans. This concept is a debatable issue at the global level in context with capital punishment, euthanasia etc.

“Everyone has the right to life, Liberty and security of person[1].”

“Every human being has the inherent right to life.

This right shall be protected by law. No one shall

Be arbitrarily deprived of his life[2].”

“Everyone has right to life, liberty and security of the person and right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of Fundamental justice[3]”.


For many countries in the world, the right to life is an issue which basically focuses and includes the prime role of the government and correct essence and interpretation of the constitution. NATURAL LAW (Latin- Lex Naturalis) of justice does not feed the right to die or any act which purports to deprive any human life. Right to life is a natural right and it is not contingent upon any laws, ethics, belief, custom, or any particular culture or government and thus, they are inalienable and universal in nature, hence right to life is something which should not be dealt under any legislation or government or any international institution.

Three natural rights John Locke[4] proposed:

  1. Life – Every Living being including animals are entitled to live till their natural death.
  2. Liberty- Everyone has a right to perform or do anything according to their wish till their act does not conflict with the 1st right (Life).
  3. Estate – Everyone has a right to own all they create or gain through any gift or through any medium as long as it does not conflict with the above two rights.

Therefore, by gathering above statements by Locke and drawing a prudent analysis of the same, it is clear that the life, liberty and estate all have a crucial liability towards each other and liberty and estate should work in accordance with the concept of life which shows that the importance of life is prime per se. No act should be entertained against life and it would be upheld against the human right and natural law of justice which is totally unnatural.       

Key Features of Article 21 are:

  1. There must be a valid law
  2. The law must provide a procedure
  3. The procedure must be valid, reasonable, fair and should not be cruel.
  4. The law must qualify need of Art 14, 17 i.e. it must be reasonable and fair.


  1. The right to live with human dignity, in Maneka Gandhi[5].
  2. Right to livelihood, in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal corp.[6] ,
  3. Virginity test violets Art.21, in Surjit Singh v Kanwaljit Kaur,
  4. Right of a raped minor to bear a child.

There are other rights like right against solitary confinement[7], right against inhuman treatment[8], right against humiliation[9] etc. which provide a window for a better standard of life to the people and are made exclusively through the natural law of justice and humanity.

What Is Euthanasia?

The debate is regarding the legalization of euthanasia. This debate is a continuing one as some people are of the view that life is sacred and no one has the right to end it whereas on the other hand some say that life belongs to oneself and each person has the right to decide what he wants to do with it even if it amounts to dying. Now, the question of Right to life has gained an international dimension, whether it includes right to die under article 21 of constitution of India. So here the concept of Euthanasia came into the picture.

Euthanasia has different meanings based upon its usages but for the first time, it was used by Francis Bacon in 17th century, according to him, it was meant for calm and painless death without any sufferings and it used to be the responsibility of the physician to alleviate the physical sufferings of the sufferer[10]. But in the present day scenario it has two basic categories i.e. active euthanasia and passive euthanasia. In Passive euthanasia, the life supports of a patient are withdrawn like life support system and antibiotics etc. which are merely a reason left for a patient to keep him/her alive for nothing. While Active euthanasia is an act, lethal substances or force such as an injection to kill a patient. Passive euthanasia is quite commonly practiced in various nations while the concept of active euthanasia is still under the shades of controversies. Nevertheless, this whole concept of euthanasia is full of controversies.

The case of euthanasia first came in to the arena of Indian judicial system by one of the most famous cases of euthanasia, Aruna Ramchandran Shan Baugh V. Union of India, where a former nurse who remains in coma for more than 37 years gained public support and attention while her mercy petition was filed. The honorable Supreme Court of India had rejected a petition for the mercy killing of Shanbaug; she has been in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ for four decades after being raped by a hospital sweeper in 1973.

Justice J.S. Verma’s unanimous judgment which stated that, the right to die is inherently inconsistent with the concept of the right to life. Here the subject matter of the case is similar i.e. ‘life’ but the outcome from the interpretation is entirely opposite because one is to safeguard the concept but the other one is to ruin it. Suicide is the unnatural and unethical termination of life and incompatible or inconsistent with the concept of right to life.

Position of euthanasia and physical assisted suicide at global level[11]:

Australia Euthanasia: Illegal (legalized in the Northern Territory in 1995 and overturned in 1997)Physician-Assisted Suicide: Illegal
Canada Euthanasia: IllegalPhysician-Assisted Suicide: Illegal
India Euthanasia: IllegalPhysician-Assisted Suicide: Illegal
Israel Euthanasia: IllegalPhysician-Assisted Suicide: Illegal
Italy Euthanasia: IllegalPhysician-Assisted Suicide: Illegal
Russia Euthanasia: IllegalPhysician-Assisted Suicide: Illegal
Spain Euthanasia: IllegalPhysician-Assisted Suicide: Illegal



One of the key reasons behind the cases of mercy killing or euthanasia is, removing or withdrawing life support (medical) is itself disputing a right to health and medical assistance which is itself an outcome of Art 21, Parmananda Katara v. Union of India[12], where it was held by the Supreme Court that medical aid should be given immediately to the patient without waiting for the legal formalities to preserve his/her life.

  • The patient for whom a mercy petition is filed is not the active party or he is not aware about the situation, i.e. his consent is not present in the case.
  • There is a possibility that Passive euthanasia may take a commercial phase and where poor patients and their family members refuse or withdraw treatment because of the huge cost involved in keeping them alive. If euthanasia is legalized, the commercial health sector may start serving death sentence to many disabled and poor people where most of the population is poor.
  • There would be a possibility that the relatives of the patient may use euthanasia for shirking their responsibility of taking care of the patient.
  • Euthanasia can become a means of health care cost containment for the people.


What are the issues? What are the suggestions for better functioning of this law i.e. Art. 21 of the Constitution of India. First, a better law regarding the mercy killing and Euthanasia should be enacted as it could create a negative effect and dispute the Art 21 as the most important point is, it will lead to its misuse by the doctors. The interpretation of Art 21 has to be drawn in a positive way, because no one has any right to kill or get killed by someone. A person would have a right not to be killed as long as he/she has not engaged in any activity that would force the state to deprive him/her from his/her life.  Life is a precious gift of nature. Right to die is an unethical concept; it contradicts with all aspects of right to life except for an issue i.e. an incurable person which includes a culprit soul and a culprit body which can never be restored to a reasonable level, Otherwise his life will be no better in that situation. Thus, considering the financial and medical facilities also, the question still lies open, what will be better-allowing euthanasia or not allowing euthanasia?

[1] In 1948, the universal declaration of human rights adopted by United Nations general assembly declared in article 3.

[2] Article 6.1 of the international covenant on civil and political rights ( Adopted by UN general assembly 1966).

[3] In 1982, the Canadian charter of right and freedom, sec 7.

[4] John locke and the three natural law and natural rights tradition, steve forde, university of north texas.

[5] AIR 1981 SC 746

[6] AIR 1986 SC 180, 3 SCC 545

[7] Sunit Batra v. Delhi Administration AIR Sc 1575

[8] Kishore singh v state of rajasthan AIR 1981 SC 625

[9] Raghuwansh Deshanasnd v. state of Maharashtra AIR 2011 3393

[10] Euthanasia, Introduction :

[11]Euthanasia and Human Rights, Legal service, file:///C:/Users/SONY/Downloads/Euthanasia%20and%20Human%20Rights.htm

[12] AIR 1989 SC 2039

About the Author
Pranav Gupta is a self-driven, passionate, and hopeful law student from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. He is a goal oriented professional who is always ready to take on a challenge and who is looking to learn all the time. His abundant passion for law & politics and his commitment are his real strength. He is a person with innovative, ambitious and hardworking qualities. In his very first year of Law Graduation (5 years), he has got the experience of writing more than 5 research paper of various issues like Sustainable development, criminology, Human rights and Minorities, Surrogacy etc. Presently, he is pursuing his internship with Alexis Centre for Public Policy and International Relations.

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