‘Active euthanasia’ (mercy killing) is still illegal in India while 'passive euthanasia' may be permissible in exceptional circumstances, according to a recent decision by the Supreme Court of India. The court recently dismissed a plea for mercy killing brought by writer/journalist Pinky Virani on behalf of a 60-year-old nurse, living in a vegetative state for the past 37 years in a Mumbai hospital after a brutal sexual assault.
Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug, a nurse of KEM Hospital in Mumbai, was raped by a ward boy in1973. Aruna was menstruating on that day and therefore, the rapist did not penetrate her but instead choked her with a dog chain and raped her anally. She bled for days from the anus and the attempted asphyxiation had cut off oxygen supply to her brain resulting in a brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury apart from leaving her cortically blind. She went into a coma after that incident and was pronounced brain dead.
Currently, she cannot speak, hear, or see; she is unable to communicate in any manner. And she is force-fed every day. The former nurse has become 'featherweight' and her bones are brittle. Her wrists are twisted inward and her teeth are totally decayed. Also, she is now prone to bed sores as a result of being unable to move by herself and in one position most of the time.
The Legal Issues:
The injustice first done with Aruna after those brutal happenings was that her attacker was punished not for rape or sexual molestation, nor for the "unnatural sexual offense" (which could have got him a ten-year sentence by itself) but rather for assault and robbery for which he received a total effective sentence of seven-years with each offense running concurrently.
A writer cum journalist, Pinky Virani, filed a petition in the Supreme Court for a passive euthanasia for Aruna, to which the honourable judges rejected the plea as there is currently no law in place for euthanasia. The bench, however, did say even though there is no law presently in the country on euthanasia, that mercy killing of a terminally-ill patient ‘under the doctrine of passive euthanasia’ can be resorted to in exceptional cases. But the bench clarified that until Parliament enacts a law regarding euthanasia, its most recent judgment on active and passive euthanasia will be in force.
However, the Supreme Court did make some suggested guidelines with regard to passive euthanasia but they were not immediately available, according to reports.
So the Supreme Court of India seems not to reject the idea of passive euthanasia. It is the lack of a law which made the honourable judges give the verdict against Aruna’s petition for mercy killing. We hope the Indian Parliament will pass a bill for passive Euthanasia so that Aruna may forever have the peace and freedom she deserves.
I am not a supporter of mercy killing or euthanasia in every step but while making it a law may create many hazards and complications in society, it can be highly essential in some cases like Aruna’s. And we can’t just shut our eyes and force Aruna to live a life, practically which she is not living at all.
I hope the Supreme Court will someday permit passive euthanasia for Aruna (alas they could not, because there is no perfect law regarding this in our country) so she could have the peace and freedom she deserves.