Rape victim's euthanasia plea rejected

2011-03-07 15:00
New Delhi - India's Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal for euthanasia on behalf of a woman who has been in a vegetative state for 37 years, news reports said.

Aruna Shanbaug, aged 60, once a nurse at Mumbai's King Edward Memorial Hospital, has been confined to a hospital bed since she was raped and assaulted by a cleaner during a night shift in 1973.

Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra said the facts and circumstances of the case, medical evidence and other material suggested that Shanbaug "need not be subjected to euthanasia", the PTI news agency reported.

The court said euthanasia was illegal in India since there was no law on mercy killing but allowed "passive euthanasia in exceptional circumstances", the report said.

Active euthanasia is putting an end to a person's life, for example, by administering a lethal injection, while passive euthanasia involves withdrawing life-support systems from a patient. Shanbaug is not on a life support system.

"The court has allowed passive euthanasia in some persistently vegetative or terminally-ill patients and laid certain conditions in this regard," Shubhangi Tuli, the lawyer who argued Shanbaug's case, told reporters outside the court.

'Virtually a dead person'

"We will get to know these conditions only after reading the judgment in detail," she said.

Pinki Virani, a journalist who has written a book about Shanbaug, had filed a petition in Supreme Court in 2009, saying Shanbaug was "virtually a dead person".

Shanbaug's assailant used a dog chain to tie her to a hospital bed and in the process damaged her nerves and her brain. The attacker was later sentenced to seven years in jail for attempting to murder her.

In the plea, Virani asked that the hospital be instructed to stop force-feeding her as she was brain dead and could not see, hear or communicate.

When the court asked the hospital about her condition, physicians said Shaunbag accepted food and responded to commands with facial expressions and made sounds when she wanted to use the toilet.

Shanbaug's case was keenly followed since it was the first such plea for euthanasia in the country and had led to a widespread debate as it involved a range of constitutional issues.

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