THD NewsDesk, NEW DELHI: The old dilemma resurfaces as the Supreme Court is faced with concerns about the constitutional integrity of suicide and self-harm. The Supreme Court on the 11th of September, Friday attempted to investigate if the survivor of suicide should be punished under section 309 of IPC, or assisted with care and rehabilitation under section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act. The Supreme Court sought to hear from the Centre on the same.
The solicitor general, Tushar Mehta sought a response from the center on the recently filed PIL by an animal rights NGO. The plea addressed the concern of self-harm tendencies of the people by jumping into the animal enclosures in the zoo. It requested an immediate legal intervention for preventive measures.
The quest for a reply from the center by Mehta was on the directions of a bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanium. The bench further remarked that it had noticed the ‘dichotomy’ between IPC Section 309 and Section 115 of the MH Act and hence the corresponding seek of response.
The bench’s order said, “Issue notice to the attorney general, calling upon the Union of India to justify the validity of Section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, which virtually negates Section 309 IPC.” The SC ordained senior advocate ANS Nadkarni as amicus curiae in this case.
The Supreme Court announced that this dichotomy shall be addressed with investigating the constitutional value of the 160-year-old Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. The bids on the righteousness, moral grounding, and legality of designated punishment for the survivors of suicide has led to several jurisdictions across the globe. Many nations have already announced the decriminalization of the offense, while the Indian legal provisions render punishment against the offense.
However, In a landmark SC verdict in the case of Gian Kaur (1996), the bench said “the right to live with dignity did not include the right to die and it required reconsideration.”
CURRENT LEGAL PROVISIONS:
- Section 309 of the IPC says that “whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offense shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year”
- Section 115 of the MH Act says, “Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said code.”
- In addition to this, section 115 (2) states, “The appropriate government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.”
In the history of Supreme court verdicts, a five-judge constitution bench declared the sanction for passive euthanasia for the patients in a vegetative state on March 9, 2018. The decision validated the “living will” of the patients.
“The law may require to be revisited in future in view of domestic and international developments pointing towards decriminalization of suicide,” said Justice D Y Chandrachud on the current theme.
Chandrachud further added, “It (the MH Act) regards a person who attempts suicide as a victim of circumstances and not an offender, at least in the absence of proof to the contrary, the burden of which must lie on the prosecution. Section 115 marks a pronounced change in our law about how society must treat and attempt to commit suicide. It seeks to align Indian law with emerging knowledge on suicide, by treating a person who attempts suicide being the need for care, treatment, and rehabilitation rather than penal sanctions.”
The individual autonomy of the right to life and death has been subjected to heated debate for many years. In recent years, with evolving definitions of “freedom” and “autonomy”, many PILS and pleas have surfaced to alter the existing legal provisions. Questions have arisen on the 160-year-old legal setup. Meanwhile, the response of the center on the theme is awaited.