Aruna Shanbaug will live: Supreme Court (Roundup)March 7th, 2011 - 7:12 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi/Mumbai, March 7 (IANS) Rejecting a petition for the mercy killing of Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who has been in a “persistent vegetative state” for the past 37 years after being brutally raped, the Supreme Court Monday permitted passive euthanasia if this was allowed by a high court.
Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra delivered the ruling while rejecting a petition moved on behalf of the 63-year-old Shanbaug by her friend and social activist Pinki Virani. Shanbaug, a nurse at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital, was sodomised within its premises in November 1973 and has been in a coma ever since.
While evoking contrasting responses from the medical fraternity and the general public, the verdict raised the issue of active euthanasia, on which there are no prevalent laws in India.
Justice Katju said that active euthanasia is illegal as there is no statutory provision to support it.
However, the court said: “Passive euthanasia is permissible under certain conditions with the approval of the (concerned) high court.”
It further said the high court will grant its approval after getting the opinion of three eminent doctors and hearing the government and the close relatives of the terminally ill patient sought to be put under passive euthanasia.
The court said this will be the law of the land for passive euthanasia in the case of terminally ill patients till an appropriate law is enacted for this.
Reacting to the ruling, union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily said in Delhi that the issue of euthanasia needs to be seriously debated.
“There is no question of concurring or not with the judgment. But in fact, they (Supreme Court) are right that without a law you cannot resort to this kind of a decision with a judicial order,” Moily told reporters.
The apex court also said though Virani was performing a laudable social service, the staff, doctors and nurses of the King Edward Memorial Hospital, where Shanbaug is admitted, have a greater right over her and only they can decide whether to opt for passive euthanasia or not.
Active euthanasia is a state where a patient is given a lethal injection to put him to sleep, while passive euthanasia involves withdrawing life support systems from a patient.
The KEM hospital staff expressed joy over the verdict and cut a cake to celebrate what they termed the “rebirth” of Shanbaug.
The medical fraternity also welcomed the verdict.
Voicing concern over possible misuse of mercy killing if it is allowed, doctors said they will not favour even passive euthanasia for Shanbaug.
Sanjay Bourde, a surgeon at Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital, said that euthanasia should be applied only to patients who have multiple complications and are brain-dead.
“I will not advocate euthanasia in Aruna Shanbaug’s case. She is neither on a ventilator nor is her treatment too expensive. All she needs is a little care,” Borude told IANS.
Sanjeev Bagai, chief executive of Delhi’s Batra Hospital and former dean of KEM Hospital, said: “Life should be preserved. The Supreme Court decision is right. Very few countries have accepted euthanasia, but India is not for it. I think we have very few and isolated cases of such an extreme medical condition.”
According to Devi Prasad Shetty, founder of Bangalore’s Narayana Hrudayalaya, “India is not yet mature enough to handle euthanasia cases, primarily because we are only talking about the convenience of looking after somebody.”
“If a patient is brain-dead, I think people will take advantage. If euthanasia is allowed, it will only be misused,” he told the media.
Jyotsna Pandit, president of the Maharashtra unit of Trained Nurses Association of India (TNAI), stressed that TNAI will not accept euthanasia.
However, the reaction from Mumbai’s general public was in favour of allowing Shanbaug a “dignified death”.
“It is a tragedy that while the woman, who was chained and raped lives a life she didn’t deserve for the past 37 years, the person responsible is living a normal life. She should be freed from this pain and suffering,” Kanchan Singh, a chef in a Mumbai hotel, said.
Hailing from Haldipur town of Shimoga in Karnataka, Aruna was a junior nurse at the KEM, planning to get married to a medico in the hospital when her career and dreams were shattered by the attacker, Sohanlal Bhartha Valmiki, a wardboy in the same hospital.
He sneaked into the nurses’ changing room and attacked Aruna. He first strangulated her with a dog chain and then sodomised her.
These acts resulted in loss of oxygen supply to Aruna’s brain, leading to brain stem injury, damaging her cervical cord and leaving her blind.
Though police lodged a case of robbery, assault and attempted murder, they did not record rape as the anal rape was concealed by the hospital authorities, ostensibly to save her impending marriage with the medico, Sandeep Sardesai.
Sohanlal was jailed for seven years but now his whereabouts are not known.
Khantil Shah, a public relations professional, while voicing concern over the possible misuse of euthanasia, felt it should be considered in rare cases.
“I know that euthanasia, if legalised, can be misused in many ways. But the court should consider certain pleas. In this case, euthanasia should be granted,” he said.
College student K. Rajeshwari opposed the view.
“If Aruna cannot decide for herself, we have no right to decide for her either. She should live on till she dies of natural reasons,” she said.
–Asian News Service
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