The death of Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who spent 42 years in a vegetative state after being raped and gagged with a dog chain that left her in coma for 42 years and strangled in a Mumbai hospital, has many asking if India can overcome the legal and moral hurdles to allow euthanasia.
The death ended decades of pain and trauma for the 67 year old Shanbaug who remained immobilised in a single hospital room after the brutal sexual assault left her blind and severely brain damaged.
The Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition seeking to legally end Shanbaug’s life in 2011. Since then, much of the debate on legalising euthanasia has revolved around her story. And even in her death, Shanbaug seems to have sparked discussions on the “right to die” in the country. Her tragic story highlights not one but many issues. As The Asian Age puts it, she became a “symbol of all that is wrong with our male-dominated society”.
“Her tormentor” – a sweeper in the hospital – spent only seven years in jail and “society probably forgot about the beast after he was set free”. That was in the 1970s. But looking at the recent cases of sexual assault against women in India, not much seems to have changed.
“The man who assaulted Aruna and left her for dead, walked out of jail, unencumbered by law or conscience.”
Nobody can really know how it feels to lose volition over life and limb, to never be able to speak another word or see the world with a coherent gaze. To lose in one decisive moment, a lifetime of productive work, companionship, just the ordinariness of being married and raising children, brewing a cup of tea after a bath, feeling safe in the world.
India has thousands of patients who live lives worse than death but legal restrictions don’t allow them a way out. Most lawmakers take a sympathetic view on the issue, but fear that a legal “right to die” can be misused in a country where judiciary and government processes are not always efficient.
Should Euthanasia be Legalised? And the debate continues….