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Pranati Newaliya, a first year law student at Bennett University

Euthanasia or assisted suicide, has been a topic of significant debate and controversy in India, especially concerning its compatibility with Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. It is defined as “the act or practice of painlessly putting to death persons suffering from painful and incurable disease or incapacitating physical disorder or allowing them to die”[1]. However, there are very few legal provisions put in place for this and many consider it to be suicide or murder if done by themselves or someone else respectively.

There are essentially two broad and recognized categories of euthanasia:

1.     Active Euthanasia: Active euthanasia involves taking direct action to end a patient's life. This typically involves administering a lethal substance or medication with the intention of causing death. The key aspect here is that there's a deliberate intervention to bring about the patient's death.[2]

Examples include:

·       Administering a lethal injection

·       Providing an overdose of medication for the patient to take

Active euthanasia is highly controversial and illegal in most countries.

2.     Passive Euthanasia: Passive euthanasia involves allowing a patient to die by withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatments or care. The idea is that the underlying condition is allowed to take its natural course without artificial intervention to prolong life.[3]

Examples include:

·       Removing life support machines

·       Stopping medical treatments that are keeping the patient alive

Passive euthanasia is well recognised in many countries and has even been legalised in a few. Many also argue that passive euthanasia is well recognised because of there being no intention to take someone’s life.

It can be argued that individuals should have the right to make decisions about their own lives, this right is exactly what Article 21 talks about, including the choice to end their suffering through euthanasia or assisted suicide. On the other hand, it express concern about the potential for its abuse and the impact on vulnerable individuals, such as those with disabilities or mental health conditions. According to Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India it was expressed that active euthanasia and assisted suicide are considered to be illegal under Article 21 as the right to die is not considered to come within the ambit of right to life and personal liberty. It was argued that advocating for euthanasia based solely on the belief that living in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) or enduring a terminal illness offers no benefit to the patient, without considering the principles of the sanctity of life or the right to live with dignity, does not help in understanding the extent of Article 21. This provision does not inherently encompass the "right to die." The interpretation of the "right to life" under Article 21 includes the right to live[4]. However, in this case the Supreme Court of India recognised only passive euthanasia under certain conditions, such as when a person is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. The same was discussed in the case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab[5] and it was argued that the right to die with dignity should be encompassed within the ambit of Article 21 which since this case has been recognized. However, the court also laid down strict guidelines and safeguards to prevent misuse and ensure that the decision to withdraw life support is made in the best interests of the patient.

Despite the recognition of passive euthanasia, the legal framework surrounding the right to die remains ambiguous and fraught with challenges. The lack of clarity on issues such as the scope of the right. The absence of legislation specifically addressing euthanasia or assisted suicide has left courts to grapple with complex moral, ethical, and legal questions on a case-by-case basis. While the right to die is a deeply personal and sensitive issue, its recognition and implementation within the framework of Article 21 pose significant challenges and controversies.


[1] Euthanasia, Encyclopædia Britannica (Apr. 16, 2024),

[2] Yvette Brazier, Euthanasia and assisted suicide: What are they and what do they mean?, (2018),

[3] Id

[4] Id.

[5] Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, (1996) 2 SCC 648

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