Right to Die


The concept of the right to die is based on the opinion of human being, has the right to end their life in some critical condition in which he does not want to continue his life anymore due to some major illness. The right to die is a right that is not provided by law directly but in some of the popular cases the court has given permission to use the right to die.

The right to die also known as voluntary euthanasia is a very different concept from the concept of any other right which is provided by law but in the concept of the right to die there is a common thread that it also talks about the self-benefit. There is no specific rule or law coded on right to die but there is a landmark case on it and the judgment of Supreme court makes it clear that if a person going through such illness or vegetative state in which he/she or his family or guardian wants to end there life, then on the court’s permission they can do so.

Aruna Shanbaug case Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug (1 June 1948 – 18 May 2015), was an Indian nurse who was at the center of attention during a court case on euthanasia after spending 42 years during a vegetative state as a result of sexual abuse.

In 1973, while working at King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai as a junior nurse, she was raped by a sweeper on the contract ( Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki), and when she tried to escape from there then Sohanlal choked her with a dog chain and sodomized her and which resulted that the flow of oxygen to her brain was cut off and due to which she was gone in a coma. She was discovered with blood splattered around her at 7:45 am subsequent morning by a cleaner.

The police case was registered as a case of robbery and attempted murder because the doctors didn’t mention rape in the medical report of Aruna because it was anal rape and in the Indian Penal Code it was an unnatural offence to the human body (Section-377).

Sohanlal was caught and convicted for assault and robbery, and he served two concurrent seven-year sentences. He wasn’t convicted of rape, sexual molestation, or unnatural sexual offense, the last of which could have required him to serve a seven-year sentence by itself. Nurses in Mumbai went on strike demanding improved conditions for Shanbaug and better working conditions for themselves. In the 1980s, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (BMC) made two attempts to depart Shanbaug outside the KEM Hospital to free the bed she had been occupying for seven years. KEM nurses launched a protest, and therefore the BMC abandoned the plan.

After 37 years, the body of Shanbaug was lying on the same bed in a vegetative state a Journalist and human-rights activist Pinki Virani filed a suit in the Supreme Court in which she demanded right to die for Shanbaug on 10th December 2010 Supreme Court admitting the case sought a report on Shanbaug’s medical condition from the hospital in Mumbai. On 24 January 2011, the Supreme Court of India saw the plea for euthanasia filed by Aruna’s friend, journalist Pinki Virani, by fixing a medical panel to look at her. A three-member medical panel was established under the Supreme Court’s directive. After examining Shanbaug, the panel concluded that she met “most of the standards of being during a permanent vegetative state”.

On 7 March 2011, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment, issued a group of broad guidelines legalizing passive euthanasia in India. These guidelines for passive euthanasia—i.e. the decision to withdraw treatment, nutrition, or water—establish that the choice to discontinue life support must be taken by parents, spouse, or other close relatives, or in absence of them, by a “next friend”. This decision requires approval from the concerned High Court.

In its judgment, the court declined to declare Virani as “next friend” of Aruna Shanbaug, and instead treated the KEM hospital staff because the “next friend.” Since the KEM Hospital staff wished that Aruna Shanbaug be allowed to live, Virani’s petition to withdraw life support was declined. However, the court further stipulated that the KEM hospital staff, with the approval of the Bombay HC, had the choice of withdrawing life support if they changed their mind: However, assuming that the KEM hospital staff at some future time changes its mind, in our opinion in such a situation the KEM hospital would need to apply to the Bombay HC for approval of the decision to withdraw life support. A few days before her death, Shanbaug was diagnosed with pneumonia. She was moved to the medical intensive care unit (MICU) of the hospital and put on a ventilator. She died on the morning of 18 May 2015. Her funeral was performed by the hospital nurses and other staff members.

In view of the inconsistent opinions rendered in Aruna Shanbaug (supra) and also considering the important question of law involved which must be reflected within the light of social, legal, medical, and constitutional perspective, it becomes extremely important to own a transparent enunciation of law. Thus, in our cogent opinion, the question of law involved requires careful consideration by a Constitution Bench of this Court for the advantage of humanity as an entire.