Monday, February 8, 2010

Right to die - a fundamental right?

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution reads thus.

No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law

Suicide means deliberate termination of one’s own physical existence or self-murder. It is an act of voluntarily or intentionally taking one’s own life. Suicide needs to be distinguished from euthanasia or mercy-killing. Suicide by its very nature is an act of self- killing or self-destruction, an act of terminating one’s own life without the aid or assistance of any other human agency. Euthanasia, on the other hand, involves the intervention of other human agency to end the life.

Self-deprivation of life is not established by any procedure.

I would like to bring to your attention few facts with regards to suicides in India. According to the data I have with me, sourced from the report titled ‘Humanization and Decriminalizing of attempt to suicide’ submitted to the then Law Minister Mr. H. R. Bharadwaj, the number of recorded suicides in India in the year 2006 was 1,18,112. The deceased were mostly from the age group of 15-29 and 30-44 accounting for 36% and 35% respectively of the total suicides in the country.

Our life is inextricably linked with so many other people’s lives. Therefore it would be preposterous to even suggest that a person has the personal liberty to die considering how many lives would be affected by that. In certain cases, suicides can even affect the society as a whole. I would like to draw your attention to a suicide that took place in my home state Kerala a few years back, when a college student named Rajani committed suicide by jumping off the 3nd floor of the Kerala Entrance Commissioner’s office, because her application for an education loan was rejected by a bank. The state was paralyzed for the next 10 days, public property destroyed and schools shut down.

The decision to commit suicide is impulsive, irrational and emotional; due to various factors at a personal level and at a socio-economic level. I strongly believe that through effective intervention at the appropriate time, such deaths can be avoided, altering the conditions which lead to the decision to exterminate one’s own life.

It is argued that as the right to freedom of speech gives us the right to remain silent, as the right to practice a religion gives us the right not to practice a religion, the right to life does include the right to die. The Hon. Supreme Court in its various judgments have made it clear that the fundamental rights come with reasonable restrictions, and the specific case of right to die, it held that Article 21 is a provision guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty and by no stretch of the imagination can extinction of life be read into it.

I would like to conclude my arguments against this topic reiterating that right to die is not one’s ultimate personal freedom, since we not only live for ourselves, but also for others. The right to personal freedom cannot be stretched to the extent of mankind returning to state of nature, state of lawlessness.

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