Supreme Court admits Pinki Virani’s plea to end life of brain-dead rape victim Aruna Shanbaug

Thursday, December 17, 2009, 19:47
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India has admitted a petition to end the life of Aruna Shanbaug, who was a nurse in Mumbai, paralysed and considered ‘brain-dead’ ever since she was attacked and raped in November 1973.

Photo: Aruna Shanbaug

Photo: Aruna Shanbaug

The plea for ‘mercy-killing,’ or euthanasia, was filed in the Supreme Court by Pinki Virani, a journalist, who has written book on Aruna Shanbaug.

The admission by the apex court of India of a petition seeking mercy-killing is considered as a landmark in the country’s legal history.

On admitting the petition filed by Pinki Virani, the Supreme Court called for a detailed report on the medical condition of Aruna Shanbaug from KEM Hospital in Mumbai, India, and also from the government of Maharashtra.

Aruna Shanbaug, who is now 61 years old, has been ‘vegetating’ in KEM Hospital for the last 36 years.

Aruna, who was a nurse at KEM Hospital in Mumbai, was assaulted and raped by a sweeper at the same hospital on November 27, 1973. She was seriously injured when the rapist tried to strangle her.

In her plea seeking euthanasia for Aruna Shanbaug, Pinki Virani said Aruna has been in a “persistent vegetative state” for the last 36 years and that she is “virtually a dead person.”

The petitioner explained that Aruna Shanbaug is “not able to talk, hear or see anything and that she is “like a vegetable, totally devoid of any element of human life.”

Aruna is “force-fed” by nurses, two times a day, at KEM Hospital.

Pinki Virani, photo courtesy Shankkar Aiyar

Pinki Virani, photo courtesy Shankkar Aiyar

In her petition, Pinki Virani requested the Supreme Court to issue instructions “forthwith to ensure that no food is fed to Aruna Shanbaug.”

According to the petitioner, the “continued vegetative existence” of Aruna is “devoid of any human dignity” and “it is not life at all” and that “putting mashed food in her mouth mounts to violation of human dignity.”

In other words, Pinki Virani agued, Aruna has “a right to not be in this kind of sub-human condition.”

The parents of Aruna Shanbaug died many years ago, and none of her brothers or sisters or any other relative “has ever bothered to visit her, enquire about her, or to take care of her in the last 36 years,’ according to the petitioner.

The man who raped Aruna Shanbaug was sentenced to a 7-year prison term for “attempting to murder and rob” her.

In her book, Pinki Virani describes Aruna’s condition in 1997, the year in which she turned 49, thus: “Aruna was in a totally pathetic state. Her bones were brittle, and skin was like papier mache, stretched over her skeleton. Her decayed teeth are causing her immense pain.”

In 2004, Venkatesh, 25, a terminally ill chess champion, was the focus of debate on euthanasia before he died in a hospital.

Venkatesh, who suffered from a genetic neurological disorder, was on life-support systems for over 7 months.  Both the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and the government of Andhra Pradesh had rejected Venkatesh’s request to turn off his life-support systems, on the ground that doing that would amount to “illegal mercy-killing.”

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