The Petitioner which is a non-government, non-profit making organization is filing the instant Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India in public interest to bring to the notice of this Hon'ble Court the serious problem of violation of fundamental right to life, liberty, privacy and the right to die with dignity of the people of this country guaranteed to them under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It is submitted that the citizens who are suffering from chronic diseases and/or are at the end of their natural life span and are likely to go into a state of terminal illness or permanent vegetative state are deprived of their rights to refuse cruel and unwanted medical treatment, like feeding through hydration tubes, being kept on ventilator and other life supporting machines in order to artificially prolong their natural life span. This sometimes leads to extension of pain and agony both physical and mental which they desperately seek to end by making an informed choice and clearly expressing their wishes in advance, (called a living will) in the event of they going into a state when it will not be possible for them to express their wishes. This Hon'ble Court has observed in the case Gian Kaur vs. State of Punjab and in other connected of matters, (1996) 2 SCC 648 that right to die with dignity is a part of right to live with dignity. This Hon'ble Court has observed :

"A question may arise, in the context of a dying man who is terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state that he may be permitted to terminate it by a premature extinction of his life in those circumstances. This category of cases may fall within the ambit of the right to die with dignity as a part of right to live with dignity, when death due to termination of natural life is certain and imminent and the process of natural death has commenced. They are not in the cases of extinguishing life but only of accelerating conclusion of the process of natural death which has already commenced".

This Hon'ble Court has held that right to life does not mean a mere animal existence of a human being. It has been held that right to life will mean right to live with dignity with basic amenities of life like food, shelter, health etc. (Kindly see Francis Coralie Mullin vs. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi reported in (1981) 1 SCC 608).

It is a common law right of the people, of any civilized country, to refuse unwanted medical treatment and no person can force him/her to take any medical treatment which the person does not desire to continue with. It is submitted that to initiate a medical treatment to a person who has reached at an end of his life and the process of his/her death has already commenced against the wishes of that person will be violating his/her right to liberty. The right to be free from unwanted life-sustaining medical treatment is a right protected by Article 21.

Even the right to privacy which has also been held to be a part of right to life is being violated as the people are not being given any right to make an informed choice and a personal decision about withholding or withdrawing life sustaining medical treatment (Kindly see Kharak Singh vs. State of U.P., (1964) 1 SCR 332, Govind vs. State of Madhya Pradesh1975) 2 SCC 148 and Peoples Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India, (1997) 1 SCO 301 on Right to Privacy ).

In the present regime of laws even clearly expressed wishes of such patients to be permitted to die with dignity are not respected and it is difficult for the medical practitioner to take a decision in accordance with these wishes, due to the fear of facing penal consequences. This situation is depriving the citizens of the country of a precious fundamental right guaranteed to them by the Constitution, namely, the right to die with dignity, which is implicit in Article 21 of the Constitution.

April - June 2007