Supreme Court rejects Aruna Shanbaug mercy killing petetion

New Delhi, Mar 7 (Calcutta Tube / IBNS): The Supreme Court on Monday rejected the petition seeking mercy killing for Aruna Shanbaug, a former nurse who has been lying in a vegetative state in a Mumbai hospital bed for the last 37 years following sexual assault by a sweeper, but held passive euthanasia as permissible in special cases.

The verdict, significant for its recognition of passive euthanasia, was passed by a bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra, as they dismissed the petition by writer Pinky Virani.

The judges said that while active euthanasia was against law in India, “passive euthanasia” is permissible as an exception.

Passive euthanasia entails the withholding of common treatments, such as antibiotics, necessary for the continuance of life.

The court said it can be carried out “under supervision of law in exceptional circumstances but active euthanasia is not permitted under the law.”

The court also highlighted the need for a new law on euthanasia and held that till such a law is enacted their ruling will remain in force on the issue of mercy killing.

Reacting to the verdict, Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily said: “There is no question of concurring or not with the judgement.”

He said the court was right that without a law “you cannot resort to this kind of a decision with a judicial order.”

King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, where Arun is taken care of in a vegetable state for the past 37 years, welcomed the verdict.

On behalf of the hospital, advocate Ballabh Sisodia had opposed the plea filed by author Pinky Virani and said the doctors and nurses, who are taking ‘dedicated care’ of Aruna for the past 37 years, also don’t want euthanasia for her.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati too opposed the petition saying there is ‘no provision either under the statute or the constitution to permit euthanasia’.

A panel of doctors appointed by the apex court also scrutinized the case to explain the expert report after examining Aruna and present their views on euthanasia.

The judges had appointed Dr JV Divatia, Dr Roop Gurshani and Dr Nilesh Shah to examine Aruna and submit a report.

The doctors had duly submitted the report on Feb 17, along with a CD.

The apex court Bench, after perusing the report, had asked the doctors to appear in the court to answer questions, explain the report and give their views on euthanasia.

Virani, a friend of Aruna from Mumbai, had approached the court, seeking the court’s directive to stop Aruna’s feeding as her continued vegetative existence is a violation to her right to live in dignity.

Virani has also pointed that there was no chance of Aruna’s condition improving.

Doctors who examined Aruna have also noted that the nurse meets almost all criteria of being in persistent vegetative state.

However, nurses at KEM Hospital, where Aruna worked and has been admitted since the 1973 incident, feel that Aruna should be allowed to live and are willing to take care of her till she meets her normal death.

Aruna, now 63, was attacked by a hospital sweeper Sohanlal Walmiki at the basement when she was preparing to go home on Nov 27, 1973.

The sweeper choked Aruna with a chain and then sodomized her, leaving her on the floor of the basement to die.

Walmiki, who served a term of seven years of imprisonment for attempt to murder, had said that he had assaulted Aruna after she pulled him up few times for stealing food meant for hospital animals.

Charges of sodomy were not pressed against Walmiki, fearing Aruna’s reputation could suffer.

The sweeper died recently in New Delhi of AIDS.

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