SC seeks AG`s response on Euthanasia killing plea

Faced with the vexed question of permitting "Euthanasia" (mercy killing)of a rape victim virtually brain dead for the past 36 years, the Supreme Court on Monday sought the Attorney General`s response on the tricky issue.

Last Updated: Jan 24, 2011, 20:27 PM IST

New Delhi: Faced with the vexed question of
permitting "Euthanasia" (mercy killing)of a rape victim
virtually brain dead for the past 36 years, the Supreme Court
on Monday sought the Attorney General`s response on the tricky
issue as it is not legalised in the country.

A bench of justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha
Mishra also appointed a three-member doctors` team to examine
the victim Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug and submit a detailed
joint report to it by the next date of hearing.
"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 said in
an order.

The bench made the remarks on a petition filed by
Pinki Virani, a writer, and her friend who brought to the
court`s attention the pitiable state of the victim languishing
in Mumbai`s King Edward Memorial (KEM)Hospital and pleaded
that Aruna be allowed to die peacefully by withdrawing the
food being supplied to her forcibly.

The three-member doctors` team would comprise J V
Divatia, Head, Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and
Pain at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, Roop Gursahani,
Consultant Neurologist at P.D. Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai, and
Nilesh Shah, Head, Department of Psychiatry at Lokmanya Tilak
Municipal Corporation Medical College and General Hospital.

The bench also appointed senior advocate T R Andhyarujina
as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to assist on the
issue.

"The question of locus standi of the next friend of the
petitioner to move this petition shall also be considered
on the date fixed," the bench said in the order.

It was stated Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug, a staff
nurse at the KEM Hospital in Mumbai, 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 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.

It was alleged that due to strangulation by the chain
the supply of oxygen to the brain stopped and the cortex
damaged. She also had brain stem contusion injury associated
with cervical cord injury.

According to the petitioner, for the past 36 years
after the incident Aruna, who is now about 60 years old, has
become "featherweight," and her bones are brittle. She is
prone to bed sores.
Her wrists are twisted inwards, teeth decayed and she
can only be given mashed food on which she survives.

The petitioner submnitted Aruna is in a persistent
vegetative state, her brain is virtually dead and oblivious to
the outside world. She can neither see nor hear anything nor
can she express herself or communicate in any manner
whatsoever.

Mashed food is put in her mouth, she is not able to
chew or taste any food. She is not even aware that food has
been put in her mouth. She is not able to swallow any liquid
food, which shows that the food goes down on its own and not
because of any effort on her part. The process of digestion
goes on in this way as the mashed food passes through her
system, the petitioner submitted.

"Judged by any parameter, Aruna cannot be said to be a
living person and it is only on account of mashed food which
is put into her mouth there is a fa?ade of life which is
totally devoid of any human element," the petition has said.

Hence, Pinki urged the apex court to direct the
hospital authorities to stop feeding Aruna and let her die.

The apex court had ssued a notice to the Centre and
others on December 16, 2009, but only Mumbai Municipal
Corporation and the Dean, KEM Hospital, have filed the
responses.

The affidavit of Amar Ramaji Pazare, Professor and
Head in the Hospital, said Aruna accepts the food in normal
course and responds by facial expressions.

She responds to commands intermittently by making
sounds. She makes sounds when she has to pass stool and urine
which the nursing staff identifies and attends to by leading
her to the toilet.

The bench requested the Bombay High Court and the
state government to render all possible assistance to the
team.

PTI