We did what Aruna Shanbaug would have done: KEM nurses

"She was one of us. We just helped someone who needed it. It is nothing special at all."

May 19, 2015 12:08 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 07:39 am IST - Mumbai

Nurses of KEM hospital in Mumbai pay their last respects to Aruna Shanbaug. Photo: Vivek Bendre

Nurses of KEM hospital in Mumbai pay their last respects to Aruna Shanbaug. Photo: Vivek Bendre

Aruna Shanbaug was a six-month-old child to almost every nurse who entered King Edward Memorial (KEM) hospital in Mumbai for last 42 years.

“Do you ever get enough of child of that age? You never stop loving that kid. We did the same,” said Surinder Kaur, head nurse at the hospital’s cardiac division.  

It was in 1976 when Ms. Kaur entered the hospital as a nursing student. She knew about a lady called Aruna Shanbaug, who lay in a semi-conscious state in ward number 4.

“I could never talk to her. But I know that she loved egg curry. I cannot forget the joy on her face, when she tasted it. She could not move, but was always eager to have a clean bed sheet. She expressed her happiness through her tiny eyes,” Ms. Kaur remembered, adding that not once did Shanbaug suffered of bedsores in those 42 years.

A small locked room near ward number 4 at the hospital’s medicine department was Shanbaug’s only home for all these years. A hospital which treats thousands of patients from across the country every day, much more than its actual capacity, never abandoned this lady. “Maybe only a government hospital can afford this luxury,” Ms. Kaur said, jokingly.

In initial years, the room was always open. But after Shanbaug’s name started making rounds in media, thanks to the book on her by Pinky Virani, it was locked.

On Monday afternoon, the ward adjacent to room was overflowing with patients as always. Relatives of the sufferers looked curiously at the non-stop flow of journalists seeking directions to that room. As Shanbaug’s lifeless body was brought to the ground floor and kept on a floral bed, the nurses shouted, ‘Long live Aruna.’ The rest of the staff joined in.

“We wanted her to live more,” one of the nurses said, her voice quavering with emotion. Many heads nodded in affirmative.   

A small radio in her room played religious songs. Many believe that boosted her confidence. Nobody knows who brought it in, but it stayed there, till the end.

Ms. Kaur remembered how everyone gathered to celebrate her birthday. “We used to have cake and she used to have a new gown. We always celebrated it the way anyone would do. I am sure she loved it,” she said.

Shanbaug, as many say, loved to help her patients. “She was one of us. We just did what she would have done. We helped someone who needed it. Nothing special at all,” said Ms. Kaur.  

The hospital management is now planning to set up a small structure inside the hospital in memory of Shanbaug.

Supreme Court guidelines on Euthanasia

Active euthanasia: Administering of lethal injection to snuff out life is illegal in India

Passive euthanasia: Withdrawing life support, treatment or nutrition that would allow a person to live, was legalised by way of SC guidelines in 2011.

Parents, spouse, close kin, "next friend" can decide, in best interests of the patient, to discontinue life support. The decision must be approved by a HC. In dealing with such a plea ,

  • Chief Justice of High Court must create a Bench of at least 2 judges to reach a decision.
  • Bench must nominate three reputed doctors
  • A copy of the doctors's panel report must be provided to close kin and State govt. Only then can verdict be reached.
  • - Aruna Shanbaug was brutally assaulted and raped by a wardboy-cum-sweeper of the hospital, Sohanlal Bharta Valmiki who throttled her with a dog chain. The brutal assault cut off blood and oxygen supply to key parts of her brain.
  • - Valmiki is sentenced to six years in prison. He is released in 1980.
  • - Pinki Virani, author of 'Aruna's Story', moves court seeking a peaceful death for Aruna and that the force-feeding be stopped
  • - Supreme Court rejects petition. The petition was opposed by the hospital's management and nursing staff.
  • - Aruna Shanbaug dies

>To live and to let go

Even as the Supreme Court considers the need for living wills, a new documentary film looks at the factors that haunt the issue of passive mercy killing.

>Of mercy and ending life

"We could have dismissed the petition [because]… the right to life guaranteed the Constitution does not include right to die"

>Who has the last word?

Legal experts and medical activists share their thoughts on the implications of the landmark judgment.

>Aruna is a child to us: KEM nurses

Would withdrawal of food and medication amount to manslaughter or an act of mercy - 'passive euthanasia'?

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