Case Comment : Aruna Shanbaug v. Union of India

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India and Others case also known as Aruna Shanbaug case is one of the most relavant case which talks about Article

Right to Life and Personal Liberty.The case discusses about Euthanasia, that is one of the confusing things among Indian Judiciary world. Mr. Shekhar Naphade, counsel of the petitioner, Ms.Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug. Attorney General of India Mr.Vahanvati,counsel for Union of India. this case discusses some confusing yet the most important rights,that is right to life and personal liberty and also euthanasia.The petitioner is not in a good health condition and the case is filed by Ms. Pinki Virani of Mumbai, claiming to be a next friend.It is a Writ petition under Article 32.

FACT OF THE CASE

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug was a nurse at King Edward Memorial Hospital,Parel,Mumbai.She was attacked by a sweeper in the hospital on 27th November 1973.He wrapped a dog chain around her neck and yanked her back with it. While knowing that she is menstruating, he sodomized her. He twisted the chain around her neck for immobilizing her during the act. On the next day,that is at 28th November 1973,a cleaner found her lying on the floor with blood all over in an unconscious state. During the strangulation by the chain around her neck for immobilizing her during the act.

On the next day, that is at 28th November 1973,a cleaner found her lying on the floor with blood all over in an unconsious state. During the strangulation by the chain the supply of oxygen to the brain stopped and the brain got damaged leads her to a persistent negative state. For the past 37 years,she is in a persistant negative state without any movement of hands and legs. She can only consume mashed food. The KEM hospital staffs are treating her for the last 37 years. The prayer of the petitioner Ms. Pinki Virani (next friend) was to allow passive euthanasia and let her (Aruna) peacefully.

A counter petition was filed by KEM Hospital by Dr. Amar Ramaji Pazare,Professor and head of the hospital, the respondent. The hospital staffs were taking care of Aruna in a very good manner without any fault. They claim that she has responding to her favourite food,music and there is gestures movement of eyes according to situations. Because of the dissimilarity of the petition and counter petition the court appointed a team of doctors for studying accurate physical and mental condition of the patient. The team consists of three distinguished doctors of Mumbai. The doctors were: 1.Dr. J V Divatia, Professor and head, Department of Anasthecia critical care and pain at Tata Memorial hospital, Mumbai. 2.Dr. Roop Gurushani Consultant Neurologist at P.DHinduja , Mumbai. 3.Dr. Nilesh Shah , Professor and head, Department of Psychiatry at Lokmanya Tilak Muncipal Corporation Medical College and General Hospital.

According to the report eventhough she is not verymuch aware of her self and surrounding, she recognizes the presence of people,expresses her likes and dislikes by making some noise and by waving hands in some manners. She smiles when they give her some foods which she liked the most and also licked sugar off lips. So Aruna Shanbaug is not clearly brain dead. She is not in coma either. She was in a permanent vegetative state. The doctors opined that they donot think there exists a need to terminate her life.

In the case of euthanasia there should be patient’s consent. If the patient is not in a condition to give consent then patient’s family relatives should give consent. In the case of Aruna her family and relatives leave her while she is in this terrible condition. From that day onwards overall these years it was her colleagues who take care of her. So the consent for euthanasia can be taken from them as her surrogate. At the same time, the petitioner Ms.Pinki Virani is a very well wisher of Aruna.After watching Aruna’s condition she wrote a book for her named “Aruna’s story” describing her story and even file the petition for a peaceful death of her. So here there is a question arises on which who is the proper and most suitable surrogate for Aruna Shanbaug.

Issues

  1. Whether passive euthanasia can be allowed for a person in permanent vegetatuve state?
  2. Whether Right to die with dignity can be applied in a person in permanant vegetative state not in coma?
  3. Who is the appropriate surrogate of Aruna to decide whether passive euthanasia can be applied?

Analysis

Right to die:

Article 21 of the constitution gurantees Right to life and personal liberty. The question is if Right to die or Right to personal liberty. The quesioin is Right to die or Right to die with dignity also includes in Right to Life. In Rathinam v. Union of India, the court declared that Right to life inclide right to die and sec 309 of the Indian Penal Code was declared unconstitutional. In State of Maharashtra v. Maruty Shripati Dubai, the court again highlighted the same opinion. In the case Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab the court overruled the judgement of P. Rathinam case.

Euthanasia:

There are two types of euthanasia. Active euthanasia amd passive euthanasia . In active euthanasia a substance is injected to kill a person.In passive euthanasia it is the withholding of medical treatment which lead to death. Here Aruna is living by eating the mashed foods only. So inorder for passive euthanasias we need to stop feeding her. That will lead to a death by starvation which is verymuch painful and cruel.

Judgement

The honourable bench of The Supreme Court comprises of Justice Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra had dlievered the renowned judgement of Aruna Shanbaug case. The court held that Aruna is neither in coma nor brian dead. She is in a stage called Permanent Vgetative State (PVS). Eventhough she is in PVS she recognize the presence of persons around her. She expresess her likes and dislikes by making some voice and waving hands in some manner. She could take 2 spoon of water and mashed foods directly through her mouth. She smiles at her favourite food and also licks the sugar from her lips after eating. Therefore terminating her life is clearly an unjustified things.

The hospital staffs at KEM hospital treated Aruna very well. Every year the newly admitted batch nursing students were introduced her. Even she is in a bedridden state for 37 years there is not even a bedsore. So the appropriate surrogate for Aruna is the hospital staffs and management at KEM hospital not Pinki Virani. The court considers and appreciate the good faith of Ms. Pinki Virani and that of KEM hospital staffs and management.

In final, active euthanasia cannot be supported because it will be misused. The court held that passive euthanasia should be legalized and give some criteria for that. The power to decide regarding passive is not given to doctors/families completely. The court states that: ” Article 226 give power to The High Court to pass suitable order on the application filed by close relatives,friends,doctors,hospital staff for granting permission to withdraw the life support system and a bench of atleast two judges must be there to decide whether to grant approval”.

Conclusion

Aruna Shanbaug v. Union of India and Others is a landmark case. The judgement clearly states that the strict procedures for permitting passive euthanasia of patients in PVS. Rejected active euthanasia and had given reasons for the rejection.

Allowing passive euthanasia in case of an incompetant patient is a great relief for many bedridden patients. Not permitting active euthanasia is an appropriate decision because there is more than enough chance to misuse that.

Aishwarya Says:

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