Passive Euthanasia Verdict revives memories of Aruna Shanbaug case

Mumbai: The historic verdict of the Supreme Court permitting passive euthanasia on Friday revived memories of the tragic case of Mumbai nurse Aruna R. Shanbaug, who died in 2015 after remaining comatose for a staggering 42 years.

Shanbaug, who remained in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) between November 27, 1973 and May 18, 2015 was among the longest recorded comatose patients in the world, and her pitiable condition had triggered a massive debate on euthanasia.

In 1998, New Delhi-based author Pinki Virani penned a book “Aruna’s Story: The True Account Of A Rape And Its Aftermath” on the 25-year old nurse at the BMC-run KEM Hospital who was brutally sexually assaulted by sweeper Sohanlal B. Walmiki on November 27, 1973. Walmiki attacked her in the hospital’s basement, throttled her with a dog chain and pulled it back and tried to rape her, but since she was menstruating, he sodomised her.

To immobilise the struggling young nurse, who was engaged and due to get married shortly, he twisted the chain around her neck, cutting off oxygen supply to her brain. She was found in a pool of blood the next morning. She never woke up since that night as she had lapsed into PVS and breathed her last after 42 years, while her attacker Walmiki was caught and tried for assault and robbery, but not for rape/sexual assault and was released after serving a seven-year jail term.

During her comatose lifetime, nurses at the KEM Hospital undertook turns to look after and care for the frail Shanbaug till her death at the age of 67. In January 2011, Virani moved the apex court seeking euthanasia for Shanbaug, but it set up an expert panel to examine the victim and in March that year, rejected the plea for her “mercy killing”.

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