No mercy killing for Aruna

Supreme Court nod for passive euthanasia with conditions

In a keenly awaited judgment, the Supreme Court also held that “passive euthanasia” can be permissible in exceptional circumstances while ruling that active euthanasia (mercy killing) was illegal.

Refusing mercy killing for the 62-year-old Aruna on a petition filed by Pinki Virani, a writer and journalist, on behalf of the KEM hospital nurse, the apex court Bench of justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra laid a set of tough guidelines under which passive euthanasia can be legalised through high court-monitored mechanism.

The Bench, in its 141-page ruling, said in the case of Aruna, the mercy killing could be permitted if the Mumbai’s King Edward Hospital makes the request to the Bombay High Court on her behalf and the high court accepts it.

“A decision has to be taken to discontinue life support either by the parents or the spouse or other close relatives, or in the absence of any of them, such a decision can be taken even by a person or a body of persons acting as a next friend. It can also be taken by the doctors attending the patient and should be approved by the high court,” it stated.

In the case of nurse Aruna “it is for the KEM hospital staff to take that decision,” and not  Pinky Virani, the Bench said, adding that “the hospital staff have been amazingly caring for her day and night for so many long years, who really are her next friends, and not Pinky Virani.” It, however, appreciated the efforts of Virani for her “splendid social spirit”. 

On November 27, 1973, Aruna was sexually assaulted by a sweeper who wrapped a dog chain around her neck and yanked her. Ever since, Aruna has been lying in the hospital bed in semi-comatose state.

‘Dead person’

In her plea, Virani submitted that Aruna was virtually a ‘dead person’ as she can neither see,  hear nor express herself or communicate, in any manner whatsoever. “There is not the slightest possibility of any improvement in her condition and her body lies on the bed in the Hospital like a dead animal,” the petitioner had claimed.

The apex court said that as per the facts and circumstances of the case, medical evidence and other material suggest that Aruna need not be subjected to euthanasia.  Even under the definition of the the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, Aruna cannot be said to be brain dead.

“She recognises that persons are around her and expresses her like or dislike by making some vocal sound and waving her hand by certain movements. She smiles if she receives her favourite food, fish and chicken soup,” the court pointed out.

The Bench clarified that until Parliament enacts a law, its judgement on active and passive euthanasia will be in force. However, the guidelines with regard to passive euthanasia were not immediately available.

Joyous reaction

Aruna's friends
“It’s god who gives life and only He has the right to take it away. We can’t decide on it.” Lakshman Subray

Shanbaug, Aruna’s relative.
“No one has the right to kill anybody. The Supreme Court is right. Aruna was a charming girl in our class. We never thought she would meet with such tragedy in life.”
Ananth Ramachandra, Aruna’s classmate in school.

Staff at KEM Hospital, Mumbai

“I am grateful to the Supreme Court. We will continue our special care for Aruna. This is good that this topic will raise a debate on euthanasia.”

Dr Sanjay Oak,
KEM Hospital

“I am very happy to know that Aruna is going to live longer because I was very closely attached to  her. She responds with a smile whenever one attends her.”

Pramila Kushre, a nurse who treated Aruna.

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