CASE SUMMARY – COMMON CAUSE (A REGD. SOCIETY) V. UNION OF INDIA – WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 215 OF 2005

Edited By – Priyal Sheth


This case summary is written by Aishna Kumar, a law student at Sharda University.


CASE NAME:

Common Cause (A Regd. Society) vs Union of India on 9 March, 2019[1]

In the Supreme Court of India
Civil original jurisdiction
Case No.
Writ petition (Civil) No. 215 of 2005
Petitioner:
Common Cause and Anr.
Respondent:
Union of India anr.
Date of Judgement:
Decided on March 9th, 2018
Bench:
Dipak Misra, CJI; Justice A.K Sikri; Justice D. Y Chandrachud; Justice Ashok Bhushan & Justice A.M Khanwilkar

Common Cause, a registered society for the common welfare of individuals filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution to legalize “Passive Euthanasia”. The petition further stated to legally validate living wills.

The Supreme Court of India held that the right to die with dignity may be regarded as a fundamental right. The Bench held that passive euthanasia and a legal document are valid. A detailed guideline was put out by the Court in reference to the petition.


Passive euthanasia and active euthanasia differ from each other in certain ways. 

Active euthanasia is when death is caused by an act – for instance when an individual is killed by being given an overdose of pain-killers.

Passive euthanasia is when death is caused by an omission – i.e. when someone lets the person die.

Living wills are the written documents that allow patients to offer explicit instructions with reference to the medical treatment to be administered once they aren’t ready to express consent.

In the case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab[2], five Judge Bench of Supreme Court held that both euthanasia and suicide are unlawful in India and overruled the judgement which was given in the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India[3]. It was held that the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution doesn’t include the right to die. However, in the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India[4] the Supreme Court held that passive euthanasia is often allowed under certain exceptional circumstances under the strict monitoring of the Court.

FACTS:

Following is a brief of facts of the case:

  • In 2005 under Supreme Court of India a Public Interest Litigation was filed by a registered NGO Common Cause. [5]
  • A letter was written to the law and justice ministry, health and family minister for invoking the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. However, no response was received and a PIL was filed.
  • PIL was filed for seeking directions for legal recognition of living will and the approvals of passive euthanasia. (Petitions invoking the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.)
  •  The petition further stated to legally validate living wills, and give consent to the patient to withdraw the medical support system in certain cases.
  • This was countered by the respondent that the concept of living may be misused by the family in terms of property cases and further added that the concept was against the public policy.
  • However, the government has agreed on the principles of passive euthanasia and guided the courts for drafting management of patients with terminal illness, withdrawal of medical life support bill.

RELEVANT STATUES AND PROVISIONS:

  • In the judgement of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, the Apex Court held that the right to die is not included in the fundamental right of right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. This clarified that the use of euthanasia and suicide are both illegal in India.
  • In the case of Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, the Apex Court stated that only passive euthanasia could be allowed in exceptional cases. Passive euthanasia and active euthanasia differ from each other in certain ways.  Active euthanasia is when death is caused by an act – for instance when an individual is killed by being given an overdose of pain-killers. Passive euthanasia is when death is caused by an omission – i.e. when someone lets the person die.
  • Apex Court also stated that there are to be amendments in the Article 21 which deals with right to life. It should be interpreted as per the changing state of the society.
  • The Apex Court further emphasized on the concept of self-determination. It was held that an individual is the master of own body. Anyone who is of sound mind can competent enough can execute the advanced medical practices in certain circumstances.

ISSUES RAISED:

  • Does Right to Life include the Right to Die under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution?
  • Should passive euthanasia be permitted on the living will of the patient?
  • Difference between passive euthanasia and active euthanasia?
  • Does an individual have the right to refuse to the medical treatments including the withdrawal from lifesaving machines?

JUDGEMENT:

In the case of Common Cause (A Regd. Society) vs Union of India, Supreme Court held that every individual has a right to die with dignity as a part of ones Right to life and personal liberty. The same has been stated under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Thus, this judgement allowed the removal of life-support system for prolonged ailments or those in the state of uncurable coma. It was further states that an individual can make decisions against artificial life support, and recognize the necessity for creating a will. The Court also laid down certain propositions regarding the procedure for execution of Advance Directives and provided the rules thereof to offer effect to passive euthanasia.[6]

CONCLUSION:

Passive euthanasia and active euthanasia differ from each other in certain ways. 

Active euthanasia is when death is caused by an act – for instance when an individual is killed by being given an overdose of pain-killers.

Passive euthanasia is when death is caused by an omission – i.e. when someone lets the person die.

The concept of passive euthanasia is sort of controversial and raises an array of sophisticated moral, ethical, social, philosophical, legal and non-secular concerns. Broadly there are two groups formed with reference to passive euthanasia. the primary one is that the regional group which doesn’t recognize a right to die, believing life to be a divine gift.

The other relates to the need of consent. The capacity of terminally-ill patients to offer consent for his or her own killing is usually questioned. As a reason within the past there are many campaigns concerning euthanasia some for its support while others for its withdrawal. However, taking under consideration the interest of individuals, laws are laid down in support of euthanasia. Though this idea opposes the religious beliefs but considered beneficial to the society. In this regard there’s a clash between law and religion. In cases of unreasonable and unjustifiable practices law prevails over religion.

Therefore, this is often a judgment in right direction. Those affected by chronic diseases are often subjected to persistent pain and suffering and therefore the treatments where there’s no cure but only medication and treatment that only prolongs life. Denying them the right to die during a dignified manner extends their suffering. Hence, the court is correct in declaring Right to Die with Dignity as a Fundamental Right because it would result in reduction of the pains of the ones affected by chronic treatments and that they are going to be ready to die in a dignified manner.


[1] Indian Kanoon, indiankanoon.org/doc/184449972/?

[2] indiankanoon.org/doc/217501/.

[3] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/542988/

[4] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/235821/

[5] http://www.lawnn.com/common-cause-a-regd-society-vs-union-of-india/.

[6] http://www.scobserver.in/court-case/euthanasia-living-wills-and-the-right-to-die-with-dignity.


Written by –

Author Name – Aishna Kumar

Published on – 04/09/2020