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No mercy killing for Aruna, says Supreme Court

New Delhi: In a keenly-awaited verdict, the Supreme Court Monday dismissed a plea for mercy killing on behalf of a 60-year-old nurse, living in a vegetative state for the last 37 years in a Mumbai hospital after a brutal sexual assault, while holding that “passive euthanasia” can be permissible in exceptional circumstances.

Active euthanasia (mercy killing) is illegal, yet “passive euthanasia” can be permissible in exceptional circumstances, a bench of justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra said dismissing the plea filed on behalf of KEM hospital nurse Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug.

The apex court said that as per the facts and circumstances of the case, medical evidence and other material suggest that Aruna need not be subjected to euthanasia.

The bench, however, said since there is no law presently in the country on euthanasia, mercy killing of terminally-ill patient “under passive euthanasia doctrine can be resorted to in exceptional cases.”

The bench 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.

Aruna, who is now nearly 60 years old, slipped into coma after a brutal attack on her at Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital by a staffer on November 27, 1973.

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 plea for Aruna’s mercy killing had been made by writer Pinky Virani who had told the court in her petition that the nurse slipped into coma after she was attacked by a sweeper who wrapped a dog chain around her neck and yanked the victim with it.

According to the petition, he had tried to rape the victim but finding that she was menstruating, indulged in anal sex. To immobilise her during this act, he twisted the chain around her neck and fled the scene after the committing the heinous offence, it had said.

Virani had 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 injury.

According to the petitioner, in the last 37 years after the incident, Aruna has become “featherweight” and her bones are brittle. She is prone to bed sores.

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