Supreme Court Landmark Judgment- Common Cause (A Regd. Society) vs. Union of India & Anr. ((2018) 5 SCC)
This is a landmark case where Supreme Court of India allowed the writ petition filed on behalf of a registered NGO which work for the common welfare of the people. This writ was filed for a strong system of certification of mercy death or passive euthanasia as well as legal recognition of living will in India.
Following are the brief facts of this instant case:
- That in the year 2005, in Supreme Court of India Public Interest Litigation was filed by a registered NGO Common Cause. Petitioner filed this PIL invoking the jurisdiction of Supreme Court under Art 32 of the Constitution of India.
- That such petition was filed for seeking directions for legal recognition of living will and for the system of certification of passive euthanasia which means letting a person die with his own consent.
- That the society wrote letters to ministry of law and justice, ministry of health and family welfare stating and praying for the same. No response was received by the petitioner from government. Hence, this PIL was filed.
- That a person who was in a vegetative state for long and there was no hope of his recovery, or if someone was suffering with a chronic disease and no improvement was possible in him. People who are on artificial life support system and unwanted, painful treatment was being given, such people should be given the relief from pain by discontinuing such treatment. This is called passive euthanasia.
- The petitioner contended that there should be legal recognition of living will of the patient through which the person may express his consent for passive euthanasia by withdrawing medical support system.
- That this was also the contention of petitioner that right to die with dignity should also be included as a fundamental right along with the right to live with dignity which was recognized by the Court under Art 21 of Indian Constitution which guarantees right to life.
- That the petitioner society wanted to end the physical as well as mental pain of people who were at the end of their natural life but they were alive with the help of life supporting medical systems.
- That the petitioner contended for legal recognition of ‘living will’ where person who is going in such persistent painful state could write about the medical treatments and authorize his family to stop such treatments.
- That the government of India contended that the idea of living will was unacceptable. Doctors have the ethical duty to save the life of patient. Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulation, 2002 prohibits the practice of euthanasia by doctors.
- It was contended by the respondent that concept of living will may be misused by the family in property cases.
- It was also contended that this concept was also against public policy.
- However government agreed on the principle of passive euthanasia and told the court that they have drafted management of patients with terminal illness, withdrawal of medical life support bill.
- Whether passive euthanasia should be permitted on the living will of patient.
- Whether right to live with dignity covers the right to die as well in cases where patient has no hope of recovery.
Judgment and Decision[ii]
- That the constitution bench of Supreme Court of India held that right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution include smoothening of dying process of a terminally ill person or who is in constant vegetative state without any hope of recovery.
- The Apex Court clarified that earlier judgment given in a case Gian Kaur vs.State of Punjab[iii] in which it was held that right to life does not include right to die under article 21. It was held in this case that suicide and euthanasia both are illegal in India.
- That the Apex Court held in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India[iv] that passive euthanasia is allowed in exceptional circumstances. There is a huge difference in both active and passive terms. In active euthanasia something is done to end a patient’s life but in passive euthanasia something not done to maintain his life.
- It was held by the court that proper laws and rules should be made by legislature for passive euthanasia.
- Apex court held that article 21 which deals with right to life and liberty must be seen and interpreted according to the changing conditions of the society.
- Supreme Court held that right to live with dignity also include right to die with dignity as well. Now right to die with dignity is also a fundamental right.
- Court issued guidelines regarding the execution of living will and their authentication which can be done by magistrate.
- Court emphasized on the concept of self-determination and held that every adult is the master of his body and any person who is mentally fit and competent enough can execute advance medical directives in such situation.
- Apex court cleared its view that any medical practitioner is not allowed to take life of the patient through any drug or medicine for relieving such person from pain or discomfort. However, court allowed that a person who doesn’t want to take artificial life support system is permitted to exercise his right to die with dignity.