Posts Tagged ‘Aruna Shanbaug’


It is not only a debate – it involves emotional, social, legal, ethical, religious and many other points of view. The outcome of this debate will profoundly affect family relationships, interaction between doctors and patients, and concepts of basic ethical behavior. With so much at stake, more is needed than just a contest of one-liners, write-ups and debates. Mercy killing, also known as Euthanasia, is an issue back in spotlight in India. The question is raised by the vegetative state of Aruna Shanbaug since 1973. India’s Supreme Court has directed three doctors to examine the medical condition of the woman. It is being seen as a landmark case in India where Euthanasia is illegal.


Euthanasia (Eu – good, Thanatos – death) is a Greek term that refers to ending life in such a manner that relieves pain and suffering. It is deliberately bringing about a gentle and easy death, making the last days of the patient as comfortable as possible.

To summarize Euthanasia and types of it:

• Euthanasia: The intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit. (The key word here is “intentional.” If death is not intended, it is not an act of Euthanasia)

• Voluntary Euthanasia: When the person who is killed has requested to be killed.
• Non-voluntary: When the person who is killed made no request and gave no consent.
• Involuntary Euthanasia: When the person who is killed made an expressed wish to the contrary,

• Assisted Suicide: Someone provides an individual with the information, guidance and means to take his or her own life with the intention that the knowledge will be used for this purpose. When it is a doctor, who helps another person to kill himself/herself, it is called “Physician Assisted Suicide.”
• Euthanasia by Action: Intentionally causing a person’s death by performing an action such as giving a lethal injection.
• Euthanasia by Omission: Intentionally causing death by not providing necessary and ordinary (usual and customary) care or food and water.


The case is that of Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug, a nurse in Mumbai who has been paralyzed and considered ‘brain-dead’ since she was attacked by a rapist on the night of 27 November 1973. The woman was then 24 years old and working as a nurse at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial (KEM) hospital, when she was raped by a ward boy named Sohanlal Walmiki. He forced sex on her in an act of vengeance after Aruna threatened him that she would report his stealing of milk meant for patients to the hospital authorities. She was sexually assaulted, wrapped with a dog chain around her neck and sodomized. The chain cut off the blood and oxygen supply to her brain. She went into coma, and the cruel incident has left her speechless. She cannot speak, hear or see; and she is force-fed every day.

What adds fuel to the fire is that during the trial, the prosecution could not prove the rape charges, so Sohanlal was let off after six years of imprisonment for robbery.

The plea has been made by a journalist Pinki Virani to the Supreme Court for mercy killing. The writer has also penned a book titled ‘Aruna’s Story’ about the case. Two years ago, a reluctant court had issued notices to the Centre and the State Government on Virani’s petition and had said, “Under the law of the country, we cannot allow a person to die.” However, on 24th January 2011, the Supreme Court of India responded to the plea of Euthanasia, by setting up a medical panel to examine the physical and mental status of Aruna.

In her petition, Virani asked the judges to issue instructions to “forthwith ensure that no food is fed” to Aruna, who is 60. “The continued vegetative existence of Aruna is a violation of her right to live with dignity. She has a right to not be in this kind of sub-human condition,” said Virani. A lawyer for Virani, Shubhangi Tuli, said the case was not about Euthanasia. Rather they had asked the court to consider the medical definition of death. “She cannot move, she cannot hear. She only survives because she is being fed,” she said. “We are saying this is not life as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.”

On the other hand, Dr. Sanjay Oak, the dean of KEM, confessed: “She means a lot to KEM. She is on a liquid diet and loves listening to music. When those looking after her do not have a problem, I do not understand why a party who has nothing to do with her needs to worry. We have no moral right to terminate her life. I am against Euthanasia for Shanbaug.”

The panel of doctors who will examine the victim comprises of JV Divatia, Head, Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai; Roop Gursahani, Consultant Neurologist at PD Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai; and Nilesh Shah, Head, Department of Psychiatry at Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Corporation Medical College and General Hospital. The bench of Justice Markandeya Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra has also appointed senior advocate TR Andhyarujina as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to assist on the issue.


Euthanasia is illegal in India. The last time the issue made the headlines was in 2004 when a former chess champion, K Venkatesh, who was suffering from a degenerative neurological order, applied to the court to have his life support machine switched off so that his organs could be donated before they were irreparably damaged. The 25-year-old’s efforts failed and he died soon afterwards.

Oregon, Washington, Montana, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg are the jurisdictions in the world where laws specifically permit Euthanasia. Oregon and Washington passed laws and Montana’s Supreme Court determined that assisted suicide is a medical treatment. The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg permit both Euthanasia and assisted suicide. Although Euthanasia is illegal in Switzerland, it is penalized only if carried out from selfish motives.

The state of Oregon has a ‘Death with Dignity’ law, which has been in place for almost 10 years.


The essence of human life is to be able to live a dignified life but when some law forces you to live in intense pain and humiliation, there is something wrong with our society. After all as an individual, you decide where to marry; you decide where to work, and at the last hurdle of your life, you should be allowed to choose how you want to end your life. But this question cannot be answered so easily. Medical science has progressed to an extent that as long as the patient lives, there is hope.

This is the era of family disputes over property and money. People could also get away with cold-blooded murder if the patient is not in a condition to decide and the family members are allowed to mercy kill. Legalizing voluntary Euthanasia would lead to involuntary Euthanasia.

Religious and sentimental aspects are also strongly attached with the debate of Euthanasia. Euthanasia could be legalized, but the laws would have to be very strict. Every case will have to be carefully monitored taking into consideration the point of views of the patient, the relatives and the doctors. Some quick pros and cons of Euthanasia are:

For Euthanasia:

• It provides a way to relieve extreme pain
• It provides a way of relief when a person’s quality of life is low
• Frees up scarce medical funds to help other people
• It is another case of freedom of choice
• People should have the right to die
• The grief and suffering of the patient’s loved ones is shortened
• Euthanasia happens anyway!

Against Euthanasia:
• Euthanasia devalues human life
• Euthanasia can become a means of health care cost control
• Physicians and other medical care people should not be involved in directly causing death
• Voluntary Euthanasia is the start of a slippery slope that leads to involuntary Euthanasia and the killing of people who are thought undesirable
• There is no proper way of regulating Euthanasia
• Allowing Euthanasia will discourage the search for new cures and treatments for the terminally ill
• Euthanasia is morally incorrect and against the will of God


Euthanasia is a debate that is still in its infancy in India, but it is a decision that affects some of the deepest feelings of humanity. The final decision should be with the patient. But does this mean that everyone around the victim has failed? Also, what is the solution if the patient is not in a condition to decide? Euthanasia does mean “Good death,” but there can still be no conclusion to the question of whether Euthanasia should be accepted or not.

Euthanasia has practical justifications. But it is morally, emotionally and ethically unacceptable. The Euthanasia debate is fundamentally about the nature and meaning of human life. We, as a society, have a choice to make. Do we become more and more an individualistic, self-interested society, or a society that respects and values the meaning of life that is gifted to us?

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