India

Supreme Court rejects Aruna Shanbaug Mercy Plea

Tarique Anwar, BeyondHeadlines

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has rejected Aruna Shanbaug euthanasia petition on Monday. In a landmark judgment Justice Markandey Katju made distinction between ‘active’ euthanasia and ‘passive’ euthanasia.

Shanbaug was nurse at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial (KEM ) Hospital , when she was attacked and raped by a ward boy at the hospital on November 23, 1973. She has since been in vegetative condition and is taken care of religiously by hospital staffs, who all are happy by the decision.

On writer Pinki Virani, who has even authored a book on her Aruna’s Story, petitio that she should no longer be fed because keeping her alive violates her right to live with dignity. ”This is not a life according to us, and that is the question we are posing to the court, to define what is the medico-legal definition of death, whether this is life or this is death,” Subhangi Tulli, Pinki Virani’s lawyer, told BeyondHeadlines.

The doctors on a Supreme Court-appointed panel say that Aruna’s condition will never improve. But on March 9, they pointed out in court that unless her caregivers, the nurses at KEM, are unwilling to look after her, a life or death decision would not be fair. Especially since Aruna is unable to participate in that decision.

The tragedy dates back to 1973; sister Aruna had finished her shift at the hospital and was in the basement getting ready to go home. Lying in wait, was hospital sweeper, Sohanlal Walmiki, who she had pulled up a few times for stealing food meant for hospital animals. He choked Aruna with a dog chain and then sodomised her. Eleven hours later, Aruna was found unconscious. The chain around her neck had cut off oxygen supply to her brain damaging vital functions like sight, memory and normal movement.

Aruna’s family abandoned her when it became apparent she would never recover; not the KEM nurses who looked after her through the years fiercely resisting all attempts to move her out. The care came in for special praise from the Supreme Court which said: “There is not a single bedsore on Aruna despite lying in bed for 37 years. It’s marvellous.”

The bench went on to add: “The doctors may be hand-in-glove with relatives to kill patients. Medical ethics have reduced. So the judiciary must be there.”

Aruna Shanbaug has been at the centre of the euthanasia debate. The Indian courts have so far not ruled in favour of euthanasia fearing possible misuse.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali recently made a movie Guzaarish, in which lead actor Hrithik Roshan too unsuccessfully petitions for mercy killing.

tarique@beyondheadlines.in

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