Aruna Shanbaug, the face of euthanasia debate in India, who remained in permanent vegetative state for close to 42 years after suffering a brutal sexual attack, passed away at the King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEM) here.
The 67-year-old Aruna, probably one of the longest living comatose patients, was put on ventilator support and the end came around 8 am on Monday. “She passed away of pneumonia and septicaemia,” said Dr Avinash Supe, the dean of KEM Hospital. She hailed from Haldipur in Karnataka and later moved to Mumbai.
Aruna, then 25, was sexually assaulted by a sweeper, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, on November 27, 1973. Sohanlal tried to rape her but on finding that Aruna was menstruating, he sodomised her. To immobilise Aruna during the act, he twisted the dog chain he had put around her neck. The asphyxiation cut off oxygen supply to her brain, leaving her in a condition described as permanent vegetative state (PVS). She was found in the basement in a pool of blood the following day.
Sohanlal was convicted and he served two concurrent seven-year sentences for assault and robbery, but not for rape or sexual molestation, nor for “unnatural sexual offence.”
According to the last available report, he is working as a sweeper in a hospital.
Journalist-cum-activist Pinki Virani moved the Supreme Court on the issue of euthanasia in January 2011. The court turned down the mercy killing petition on March 7, 2011.
However, in the landmark decision it allowed “passive euthanasia” of withdrawing life support to patients in PVS but rejected outright active euthanasia of ending life through administration of lethal substances.
The court laid down a set of tough guidelines under which passive euthanasia can be legalised through high court-monitored mechanism in the country.
Doctors, nurses and staff gave an emotional farewell to Aruna who worked as a nurse at the KEM hospital.
“Aruna Shanbaug Amar Rahe… Aruna Shanbaug Amar Rahe…” rent the air as her mortal remains were taken from the hospital to Boiwada crematorium, where Dr Supe lit the funeral pyre.
Tears flowed down the eyes of a huge gathering of nurses, who had taken care of her over the years. The Maharashtra government condoled the death of Aruna.