‘Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996)’ is the case when the Supreme Court examined the Constitutional Validity of Section 306 (Abetment of Suicide) of IPC.
The facts of the case
In the case, an appeal was filed to Supreme Court. The appellants Gian Kaur and her husband Harbans Singh were convicted by the Trial Court under Section 306, Indian Penal Code, 1860 and each sentenced to six years R.I. and fine of Rs. 2,000/-, or, in default, further R.I. for nine months, for abetting the commission of suicide by Kulwant Kaur.
P. Rathinam v. Union of India (1996)
In P. Rathinam it was held that the scope of Article 21 includes the ‘right to die’. P. Rathinam held that Article 21 has also a positive content and is not merely negative in its reach. Reliance was placed on certain decisions to indicate the wide ambit of Article 21 wherein the term life’ does not mean ‘mere animal existence’ but right to live with human dignity’ embracing quality of life.
Drawing analogy from the interpretation of freedom of speech and expression’ to include freedom not to speak, freedom of association and movement’ to include the freedom not to join any association or to move anywhere, freedom of business’ to include freedom not to do business, it was held in P. Rathinam that logically it must follow that right to live would include right not to live, i.e., right to die or to terminate one’s life.
Having concluded that Article 21 includes also the right to die, it was held that Section 309. IPC was violative of Article 21.
The first argument advanced to challenge the constitutional validity of Section 306, IPC, in Gian kaur case rested on the decision in P. Rathinam vs. Union of India and Anr., (1994) SCC 394, by a Bench of two learned Judges of Supreme Court wherein Section 309 (suicide), IPC has been held to be unconstitutional as violative of Article 21 of’ the Constitution.
It was urged that ‘right to die’ being included in Article 21 of the Constitution as held in P. Rathinam declaring Section 309, IPC to be unconstitutional, any person abetting the commission of suicide by another is merely assisting in the enforcement of the fundamental right under Article 21; and, therefore, Section 306 IPC penalising assisted suicide is equally violative of Article 21.
One of the points directly raised was the inclusion of the `right to die’ within the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution, to contend that any person assisting the enforcement of the `right to die’ is merely assisting in the enforcement of the fundamental right under Article 21 which cannot be penal; and Section 306, IPC making that act punishable, therefore, violates Article 21.
As the matter needed a full consideration, therefore, the division bench referred this case to constitutional bench to examine the case properly.
Analysis of the case
And, on receiving the case, the constitution bench examined the case as follows-
Ist Question- Is article 21 violated by Section 309?
- When a man commits suicide he has to undertake certain positive overt acts and the genesis of those acts cannot be traced to, or be included within the protection of the ‘right to life’ under Article 21. The significant aspect of ‘sanctity of life’ is also not to be overlooked.
- Article 21 is a provision guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty and by no stretch of imagination can extinction of life’ be read to be included in protection of life’. Whatever may be the philosophy of permitting a person to extinguish his life by committing suicide, we find it difficult to construe Article 21 to include within it the right to die’ as a part of the fundamental right guaranteed therein.
- ‘Right to life’ is a natural right embodied in Article 21 but suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life and, therefore, incompatible and inconsistent with the concept of right to life‘.
- To give meaning and content to the word ‘life’ in Article 21, it has been construed as life with human dignity. Any aspect of life which makes it dignified may be read into it but not that which extinguishes it and is, therefore, inconsistent with the continued existence of life resulting in effacing the right itself. The right to die’, if any, is inherently inconsistent with the right to life’ as is death’ with life’.
- The right to life’ including the right to live with human dignity would mean the existence of such a right upto the end of natural life. This also includes the right to a dignified life upto the point of death including a dignified procedure of death. In other words, this may include the right of a dying man to also die with dignity when his life is ebbing out. But the ‘right to die’ with dignity at the end of life is not to be confused or equated with the right to die’ an unnatural death curtailing the natural span of life.
- 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.
These are not cases of extinguishing life but only of accelerating conclusion of the process of natural death which has already commenced. The debate even in such cases to permit physician assisted termination of life is inconclusive. It is sufficient to reiterate that the argument to support the view of permitting termination of life in such cases to reduce the period of suffering during the process of certain natural death is not available to interpret Article 21 to include therein the right to curtail the natural span of life.
- We are, therefore, unable to concur with the interpretation of Article 21 made in P. Rathinam. The only reason for which Section 309 is held to be violative of Article 21 in P. Rathinam does not withstand legal scrutiny. We are unable to hold that Section 309 I.P.C. is violative of Article 21.
IInd Question- Is article 14 violated by Section 309 IPC?
- It was contended that attempted suicide is not punishable in any other civilized society and there is a strong opinion against the retention of such a penal provision which led the Law Commission of India also to recommend its deletion.
- We have earlier held that right to die’ is not included in the `right to life’ under Article 21. For the same reason, right to live with human dignity’ cannot be construed to include within its ambit the right to terminate natural life, at least before commencement of the natural process of certain death.
We do not see how Article 21 can be pressed into service to support the challenge based on Article 14. It cannot, therefore, be accepted that Section 309 is violative either of Article 14 or Article 21 of the Constitution.
Validity of Section 306 I.P.C.
- The question now is whether Section 306, IPC is unconstitutional for any other reason. In our opinion, the challenge to the constitutional validity of Section 309, IPC having been rejected, no serious challenge to the constitutional validity of Section 306 survives. We have already rejected the main challenge based on P. Rathinam on the ground that `right to die’ is included in Article 21.
- Section 306 prescribes punishment for abetment of suicide’ while Section 309 punishes attempt to commit suicide’. Abetment of attempt to commit suicide is outside the purview of Section 306 and it is punishable only under Section 309 read with Section 107, IPC.
- In other words assisted suicide and assisted attempt to commit suicide are made punishable for cogent reasons in the interest of society. Such a provision is considered desirable to also prevent the danger inherent in the absence of such a penal provision.
- For the reasons we have given, the decisions of the Bombay High Court in Maruti Shri Pati Dubal vs. State of Maharashtra, 1987 Crl. L.J. 743, and of a Division Bench of this Court in P. Rathinam vs. Union of India and Anr., 1994 (3) SCC 394, wherein Section 309 I.P.C. has been held to be unconstitutional, are not correct. The conclusion of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Chenna agadeeswar and another vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, 1988 Crl.L.J. 549, that Section 309 I.P.C. is not violative of either Article 14 or Article 21 of the Constitution is approved for the reasons given herein.
- The questions of constitutional validity of Sections 306 and 309 I.P.C. are decided accordingly, by holding that neither of the two provisions is constitutionally invalid.”
Gyan Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996)