SC rejects Shanbaug's euthanasia plea, lays down guidelines for mercy killing

Last Updated: Mon, Mar 07, 2011 10:20 hrs

Rejecting the petition filed by author Pinki Virani for the mercy killing of comatose nurse Aruna Shanbaug, the Supreme Court today laid down certain guidelines for withdrawal of life support systems.

A bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra said passive euthanasia would occur when medical treatment is withheld or withdrawn leading to the death of a terminally ill person.

Active euthanasia is generally referred to a state where a patient is given a lethal injection or through any other method allowed to die in presence of doctors, while passive euthanasia involves withdrawing the life support system from a patient.

The bench further clarified that until Parliament enacts a law, its judgement on active and passive euthanasia will be in force. However, the guidelines with regard to passive euthanasia were not immediately available.

The court said passive euthanasia can be voluntary and non-voluntary. It is voluntary if the patient requests mercy killing.

Non-voluntary passive euthanasia is that of Shanbaug's case - when the patient is incompetent to decide for herself. In such cases, the decision has to be taken by a surrogate, a proxy or family or by a panel of doctors, the court ruled

The plea for Aruna's mercy killing had been made by Pinki Virani who told the court that she cannot see or speak properly and keeping her alive violates her right to live with dignity.

The government forcefully argued against a petition in the apex court that seeks mercy killing for Aruna Shanbaug, a 64-year-old comatose nurse.

Aruna Shanbhag, a nurse from Haldipur, Shimoga, Karnataka, was assaulted by a Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, a ward boy at Mumbai's King Edward Memorial Hospital in 1973.

Walmiki was motivated partly by resentment for being ordered about and castigated by Shanbaug. On the night of November 27, 1973 he attacked her, while she was changing clothes in the hospital basement after completing her shift.

He choked her with a dog chain and sodomized her. The asphyxiation during the course of the assault cut off oxygen supply to her brain resulting in brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury as well as leaving her cortically blind. (ANI)

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