- The Supreme Court judges
unanimously held right of privacy to be part of personal liberty that we
enjoy under Article 21 of the constitution.
- This ensures that
an individual ought to be free to decide for himself/herself in critical
matters without interference from others/state.
- Critical matters
include woman's freedom to terminate pregnancy, refusal to prolonged
medical treatment and food consumption to name a few.
The Supreme Court upon hearing several
petitions, questioned the government's apparent
effort to make the unique identification number Aadhaar a must for access to
state-sponsored services, taxation and other aspects of regulatory governance.
A nine-judge bench was set up headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar to decide
whether right to privacy can be declared as a fundamental right under the
Article 21 of the
section of the constitution secures every Indian citizen of two fundamental
- Right to life
- Right to personal
interpretation of Article 21 has changed over the years to include various
rights like the right to know, right to live with human dignity, right to
reputation, right against rape, right to healthcare and many more.
‘An individual’s decision to refuse prolonged treatment, and hence terminate life is a freedom granted by the constitution under the right to privacy.’
The petition and the
Supreme Court verdict on the Justice K.S.
Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India is a resounding victory for
privacy. The ruling is the outcome of a petition challenging the constitutional
validity of the Indian biometric identity scheme Aadhaar. The nine-judge bench
unanimously endorsed the right to privacy as a fundamental right under the
right to life and personal liberty of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Highlights of the
- Right to privacy
is a fundamental right: This means that an
individual can take decisions on critical matters pertaining to oneself
with no interference from others or the State.
Right to refuse prolonged treatment in
case of terminally ill patients and hence the right to end life
Right and freedom for women to decide on
matters related to termination of pregnancy
Right to consume food as per individual
likes and preferences
- However the right claimed is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions. The restrictions will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Justice J Chelameswar made it clear that no legal right, including right to privacy, could be absolute. "Every right has limitations. This aspect of the matter is conceded to at the bar. Therefore, even a fundamental right to privacy has limitations. The limitations are to be identified on a case to case basis depending upon the nature of the privacy interest claimed," he said.
The verdict and its
implication on Euthanasia or "Mercy Killing"
is termination of life of person who is terminally ill or in a permanent
vegetative state. Article
21 of the Indian Constitution
clearly provides for living with dignity. A person has a right to live a life
with at least minimum dignity and proponents of euthanasia claim that if that
standard is falling below that minimum level then a person should be given a
right to end his life.
Aruna Shanbaug Case: A
turning point in Indian legislation:
was a nurse at KEM Hospital when she was sexually assaulted by a ward boy on
the night of November 27, 1993. The attack left Aruna paralyzed and in a
vegetative state (irreversible coma). Aruna's friend Pinki Virani moved to the Supreme
Court with a plea to stop KEM Hospital from force feeding
Aruna. In 2011, the Supreme Court sent out a
medical team to inspect Aruna's condition and a landmark judgment was passed
legalizing passive euthanasia in exceptional cases. As per the guidelines
passive euthanasia was the withdrawal of food or treatment that would allow the
patient to live. However, passive euthanasia is more painful and results in
death through agony.
Countries that have
northern territory of Australia, Albania, Belgium and Netherlands were some of
the few countries that legalized either euthanasia or assisted suicide very
early on. Canada allows refusal of life sustaining measures but did not
legalize euthanasia or assisted killing.
What are the
implications of the current verdict?
verdict is not a binding law but it provides a strong argument which can be
used when the matter of euthanasia, abortion or related issues are next taken
up, either legislatively or in court. This calls for bringing in laws in the
Constitution regarding right to end life and also amendments in current laws
like the Medical Termination
of Pregnancy Act
- For the Many and the Few: What a Fundamental Right to Privacy Means for India - (https:thewire.in/170988/right-to-privacy-supreme-court-2)
- India's Abortion Laws Need to Change and in the Pro-Choice Direction - (https:thewire.in/134182/abortion-pregnancy-law-india/)