Euthanasia could be ruse for grabbing property: SC

After mulling that euthanasia could be a ruse for grabbing properties, the Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on a mercy killing plea of a Mumbai nurse living a vegetative existence for the last 37 years after being sexually assaulted by a hospital sweeper.

Last Updated: Mar 02, 2011, 21:49 PM IST

New Delhi: After mulling that euthanasia
could be a ruse for grabbing properties, the Supreme Court
on Wednesday reserved its verdict on a mercy killing plea of a Mumbai
nurse living a vegetative existence for the last 37 years
after being sexually assaulted by a hospital sweeper.

A bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra
reserved the verdict after hearing detailed arguments of
Attorney General GE Vahanvati and several senior counsel
opposing the plea for mercy killing made by Pinki Virani who
described herself as the "next friend" of the victim.

The day-long proceedings were preceded by an audio-visual
presentation of the present medical status of the victim Aruna
Ramachandra Shanbaug in the court hall.

In the 15-minute presentation, Aruna was found responding
to her surroundings and occasionally taking food with the help
of a spoon. However, she was not in a position to speak or
clearly identify the people around her.

But remarkably there was no bedsores on her, indicating
the dedication with which the staff of the King Edward
Memorial Hospital in Mumbai were taking care of her for the
past 37 years.

During the arguments, most of the counsel, including
amicus curiae T R Andhiarujina, felt that Indian laws did not
permit mercy killing.

The Attorney General also told the bench that suggestions
like withdrawal of food for the victim to allow her to die
"will be a cruel, inhuman and intolerant approach unknown and
contrary to Indian laws."

Agreeing with the arguments, the apex court said "we
would like to minimise the possibility of misuse. Because if
you leave it to a surrogate doctor or relative, then there is
the danger of them being in hand in glove.

"Let us take a hypothesis. Suppose a man meets with an
accident and goes into coma, can he be allowed to give the
consent for withdrawing the life support system? Because there
will be cases where people will manage to get their relatives
terminally ill and resort to euthanasia to grab property," the
apex court said.

Responding to questions, the Attorney General said
Parliament had also rejected the recommendations of the Law
Commission which in its earlier report suggested introduction
of euthanasia to deal with terminally ill patients.

Senior counsel TR Andhiarujina acting as amicus
curiae and Pallabh Sisodia, appearing for the staff of the KEM
hospital, also opposed the mercy killing of Aruna.

Both the counsel pointed out that the staff of the
hospital had been taking care of Aruna in a dedicated manner
for 37 years and were determined to continue with their care
and affection for the victim.

In such circumstances, they said it would not be
permissible for the court to agree to Virani`s suggestion.

"This is a case of passive euthanasia and not active. The
hospital staff is really her best friend. Although we respect
Pinki Virani, it is the hospital staff who has fed her, washed
her, even cut her nails. They feel that she is one of us and we
greatly respect the KEM hospital. What they have done is
marvellous," the bench said.

It said "we are amazed that no a single bedsore has
occurred to her. That shows the care taken by the hospital
staff, which is really marvellous.

The plea for Aruna`s mercy killing had been made by
Virani who told the court in her petition that the nurse was
attacked by a sweeper who wrapped a dog chain around her neck
and yanked the victim with it on November 27, 1973.

He tried to rape the victim but on finding that she was
menstruating, indulged in anal sex. To immobilize her during
this act, he twisted the chain around her neck and fled the
scene after the committing the heinous offence.

Senior counsel Shekar Naphade, appearing for Virani,
said that due to strangulation by the chain the supply of
oxygen to the brain stopped and the cortex got damaged. She also
had brain stem contusion injury associated with cervical cord

According to the petitioner, for the past 37 years
after the incident Aruna, who is now about 60 years old, has
become "featherweight" and her bones are brittle.

Her wrists are twisted inwards, teeth decayed and she
can only be given mashed food on which she survives, said
Virani, adding Aruna is in a persistent vegetative state,
her brain is virtually dead and she is oblivious to the
outside world.

She can neither see nor hear anything nor can she
express herself or communicate in any manner, whatsoever, she
said in her plea for mercy killing.

The apex court had earlier appointed a 3-member
medical team to assist it in determining the issue of mercy
killing, besides examining the physical condition of the brain
dead nurse.

The bench had appointed the team of Mumbai doctors JV
Divatia, Roop Gurshani and Nilesh Shah who had earlier
submitted their detailed report to the bench.

But flummoxed with the technicalities of the report,
the bench had sought the personal presence of the doctors for
a better understanding of their report.

"Euthanasia is one of the most perplexing issues which
the courts and legislatures all over the world are facing
today. This court, in this case, is facing the same issue and
we feel like a ship in an unchartered sea, seeking some
guidance by the light thrown by the legislations and judicial
precedents of foreign countries," the bench had said in one of
its earlier orders, while hearing Virani`s plea for Aruna`s
mercy killing.