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Aruna Shanbaug Case (2011)

Aruna Shanbaug Case (2011)


  • The Supreme Court on March 9 ruled that individuals had a right to die with dignity, allowing passive euthanasia with guidelines. The need to change euthanasia laws was triggered by the famous Aruna Shanbaug case. The top court in 2011 had recognised passive euthanasia in Aruna Shanbaug case by which it had permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision. On May 18, 2015, Shanbaug then 66, died of severe pneumonia. She was on ventilator support in KEM’s acute care unit.

Background | Aruna Shanbaug Case (2011)

  • Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug was a nurse in the King Edwards Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. In November 1973, she was assaulted by ward boy, Sohanlal Bhartha Valmiki, of the same hospital while changing her clothes in the hospital basement. Valmiki strangulated Shanbaug with a dog chain around her neck.
  • The attack cut off oxygen supply from her brain leaving her blind, deaf, paralysed and in a vegetative state for the next 42 years.
  • From the day of the assault till the day she died on May 18, 2015, Aruna could only survive on mashed food. She could not move her hands or legs, could not talk or perform the basic functions of a human being.
  • In 1974, Valmiki was charged with attempted murder and for robbing Aruna’s earrings, but not for rape. The police did not take into account that she was sodomized. A trial court sentenced Valmiki seven years imprisonment. This was reduced to six years because he had already served a year in lock up. Valmiki walked out of jail in 1980 and still claims he did not rape Shanbaug.

Issues Raised

  • When a person is in a permanent vegetative state (PVS), should withholding or withdrawal of life sustaining therapies be permissible or `not unlawful’?
  • If the patient has previously expressed a wish not to have life-sustaining treatments in case of futile care or a PVS, should his/ her wishes be respected when the situation arises?
  • In case a person has not previously expressed such a wish, if his family or next of kin makes a request to withhold or withdraw futile life-sustaining treatments, should their wishes be respected?

 Judgement | Aruna Shanbaug Case (2011)

  • On January 24, 2011, the apex court set up a medical committee, which examined Aruna and concluded that she met most of the criteria of being in a permanently vegetative state. The three-doctor panel also reported that the patient was not brain dead and responded to some situations on her own. The top court thus turned down Pinki Virani plea on March 7, 2011, but it allowed “passive euthanasia” of withdrawing life support to patients who are in permanently vegetative state (PVS). It also distinguished between active and passive euthanasia. By rejecting outright the use of active euthanasia to end life through administration of lethal substances, the apex court thereby laid down stringent guidelines under which passive euthanasia would be legally allowed via a high court-monitored mechanism.
  • This case clarified the issues revolving around euthanasia and also laid down guidelines with regard to massive euthanasia. Alongside, the court also made a recommendation to repeal Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. This case is a landmark case as it prescribed the procedure to be followed in an area that has not been legislated upon.

Current legal status of Euthanasia in India

  • Prior to Aruna Shanbaug case both active and passive Euthanasia was not allowed in India. In Aruna Shanbaug case the Supreme Court allowed passive Euthanasia, However it did not grant permission for Active Euthanasia.
  • Still there is no law made by parliament in India about Euthanasia.  The court also clarified that until Parliament enacts a law, its judgment on active and passive euthanasia will be in force.

International status regarding Euthanasia

  • In April 2002, the Netherland became the 1st country to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. It imposed a strict set of conditions: the patient must be suffering unbearable pain, their illness must be incurable, and the demand must be made in “full consciousness” by the patient. In 2010, 3,136 people were given Euthanasia under medical supervision.
  • In USA Doctors are allowed to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients in 5 US states.
  • As of October 2015, human euthanasia is legal in the Holland, Belgium, 5 states of USA, Ireland, Columbia, Luxembourg etc.



Indian Polity

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