Aruna Shanbaug was a nurse in KEM Hospital. In 1973 Sohanlal Walmiki, a sweeper, sodomised her and strangled her with a dog chain. This cut off air supply to her brain. Since then she is in a vegetative state in the hospital. In 1974 Sohanlal Walmiki was found guilty of “sodomy and attempt to commit murder” and sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
For 36 years Aruna Shanbaug has suffered. Her family has abandoned her.
On 16/12/2009 Pinki Virani, a social activist, acting on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug, moved a petition in the Supreme Court saying “It will be an act of mercy to stop giving mashed food and end the life of Aruna Shanbaug who has been immobile for 36 years in a hospital.
The petitioner is kept in this persistent vegetative state by the hospital authorities by feeding her mashed food, which she can hardly digest. She can not speak, hear or see, there is no element of human life in her body.”
The Supreme Court Bench observed that “Law of the country does not permit a person to die.”
But lawyer Shekar Nalpade said “Aruna Shanbaug can not be said to exist in the sense of human beings are supposed to live. It is only on account of the mashed food being put into her mouth that there is a facade of life which is totally devoid of any human element.”
The Supreme Court sought response from the Centre.
The issue was discussed on NDTV 24×7 on 16/12/2009 and on Headlines Today and CNN-IBN on 17/12/2009. Babu Joseph, spokesman of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, was present on all three channels. He said who are we to decide and it is for God to take away life. Dr. Deviprasad Shetty from Bangalore said five years later we may be able to find a cure and then what? Rani Jethmalani on NDTV 24×7 and Headlines Today and Flavia Agnes on CNN-IBN wanted Aruna Shanbaug to be allowed to die. They wanted her misery to end. Pinky Anand on Headlines Today wanted Aruna Shanbaug to live. There were other panellists who expressed their opinions.
Right to live with dignity is a vague concept. It can mean many things to many people. There is right to live. There is no right to die.
There will be people who say people with physical disabilities, mental retardation, old age, incurable sickness, homelessness, malnourishment etc are unable to live with dignity. We do not know where it will end.
Right to live with dignity is a euphemism for right to die which many times becomes duty to die.
If someone is in a vegetative state it does not mean we should put that person to death. Our knowledge about human body and sicknesses has increased over the years. Many diseased which were incurable at one time are curable now. Today we do not know how to bring back someone from vegetative state to normal state. It is possible that after some years we will know the answer and cure Aruna Shanbaug.
Nurses have taken care of her and for them she is not a vegetable but a victim. Ending the life of a victim for no fault of hers is cruel.
Aruna Shanbaug has not asked for her death or stop of food supply. Pinki Virani is not family member or relative of Aruna Shanbaug.
Aruna Shanbaug is not on life support system. She is not tube fed. She gets mashed food. Stopping giving mashed food to her will lead to death by starvation which will last several days which is cruel.
No one lives for ever. A time comes when a person had to die. A day Aruna Shanbaug will die. Let her live till that day.
Pinki Virani wrote a book about Aruna Shanbaug in which she mentioned sodomy as rape. It is misinformation. The book was written some years ago. How did she suddenly remember Aruna Shanbaug?
Aruna Shanbaug’s case is different from people going on fast unto death for some political reason for Jains going on santara. They are conscious of what they are doing.
Pinki Virani should try to change the law and make attempted murder punishable by death so that criminals who make the life of someone miserable by their act die rather than victims who suffer.
If you love a person you want him or her to live. You do not want to put to death that person. You will think how his or her life can be made better.
Meanwhile well-wishers of Aruna Shanbaug can pray that she becomes a normal person again. Miracles do happen.
Aruna Shanbaug and Supreme Court