India

After 42 years in coma, nurse Aruna Shanbaug dies

A brutal assault in 1973 cut off blood and oxygen supply to key parts of Aruna Shanbaug's brain. She had been in a vegetative state since.

A brutal assault in 1973 cut off blood and oxygen supply to key parts of Aruna Shanbaug's brain. She had been in a vegetative state since.

Aruna Shanbaug (67), former nurse of Mumbai's Kings Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital who was in a coma for 42 years after a sexual assault by a wardboy in 1973, was declared dead on Monday morning.

Shanbaug was diagnosed with pneumonia last week and was put on ventilator support. On Sunday, doctors said her condition had improved slightly but she continued to remain on life support.

Shanbaug was being taken care of by a group of KEM hospital nurses and doctors for the last four decades. Her family members reached KEM hospital to claim her last remains.

However, an IANS report said that a controversy erupted over the funeral, with two relatives of Shanbaug staking claim to perform the last rites. They claimed before mediapersons that all attempts to meet Shanbaug were stone-walled by the hospital authorities. However, nurses at the KEM Hospital demanded that since they had tended to Shanbaug for over four decades, they should be allowed to perform the last rites. The hospital, civic and police authorities have reportedly evolved a compromise formula by which the nurses and the two relatives shall jointly perform the funeral.

On November 27, 1973, Shanbaug who then worked as a junior nurse at the Kings Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, was brutally assaulted and raped by a wardboy-cum-sweeper of the hospital, Sohanlal Bharta Valmiki, after throttling her with a dog chain. The brutal assault cut off blood and oxygen supply to key parts of her brain. Ms. Shanbaug had been in a vegetative state since and confined to a bed at the KEM hospital where nurses and the hospital staff take care of her.

"The demise of Aruna Shanbaug is a jolt for any sensitive mind. It is ironical and a cruel turn of fate that someone who dreamed of dedicating her life to medical care as a nurse should remain bed-ridden. She continue to fight Destiny bravely and her struggle will remain immortal," State Congress Chief and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said in a condolence message.

State Cultural affairs minister Vinod Tawde tweeted:

Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis offered his condolences:

Maharashtra Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao said:

“The news of the demise of Smt Aruna Shanbaug is extremely painful. One feels as if one has lost a family member. The incident of the brutal attack on Aruna Shanbaug that forced her to live in a vegetative state for all these years was heart wrenching for the entire society. May her soul rest in eternal peace.”

Euthanasia plea

Shanbaug’s case had triggered a national debate on mercy killing. >In 2011, the Supreme Court responded to a plea for euthanasia filed by journalist Pinki Virani but turned down the mercy killing petition. In her petition, Ms. Virani, who penned the book Aruna’s Story , had urged the court to grant euthanasia arguing that the former nurse was “virtually a dead person.”

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'?

Video: Last rites of Aruna Shanbaug performed at KEM Hospital in Mumbai


Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Aug 6, 2022 2:10:31 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/after-42-years-in-coma-mumbai-nurse-aruna-shanbaug-dies/article61470553.ece