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ARUNA RAMCHANDRA SHANBAUG CASE

INTRODUCTION

A twenty-five-year-old nurse staff, Shanbaug forcible intercourse on the night of 27th Nov 1973 with a sweeper on contract at the King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai named Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki. She was attacked by Sohanlal while she was changing clothes in the hospital’s basement. Sohanlal decided to sodomize as he found that Shanbaug was menstruating. He wrapped the dog chain around her neck to hold her motionless while performing this act, due to which the supply of oxygen to the encephalon stopped, resulting in brain damage. She was discovered unconscious and covered in blood on the floor the following day by a cleaner.[2]

She was unable to move her hands and legs and had been surviving on mashed food. It was asserted that there is no chance for the situation to become any better. She was completely reliant on King Edward Memorial Hospital. The Respondents were asked to cease feeding Aruna so she might pass away peacefully in response to the prayers, as she has been in a permanent coma vigil for so many years.

FACTS OF THE CASE

  • On the evening of November 27, 1973, the petitioner, a staff nurse, was assaulted by a sweeper who sodomized her and choked her with a dog chain.
  • The petitioner has been in a permanent vegetative condition as a result of the strangulation, which “shut off” the oxygen supply to the brain.
  • She was totally dependent on King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai.
  • The Respondent was prayed to cease feeding Aruna and allow her to pass away peacefully.
  • Sohanlal was released in 1980 despite being apprehended, found guilty of robbery and violence, and serving two concurrent 7-year terms. He was not found guilty of rape, sexual molestation, or other serious felonies that may have resulted in life in jail[3].

EUTHANASIA

A landmark judgment that changed the scope of euthanasia in India. Euthanasia means “good death” in its most literal sense. Euthanasia, also known as “mercy killing”, is a method used to end prolonged suffering and agony. Religion, ethics, and morality are very important in our country. It can be a significant step to wilfully and deliberately taking someone’s life. We have advanced to the point where technological advancements can aid in a person’s survival. However, there are situations when it serves more as a disadvantage than an advantage.

There are two conflicting schools of thought in relation to the same. On the one hand, some people feel that it is important to protect human life, and that passive euthanasia lowers the sanity of human life. It is a gift from God, and only he has the power to revoke it. Nobody is allowed to meddle with it. While the right to life is protected by the constitution, others contend that a person should also have the option of dying with dignity in order to put an end to their pain and suffering.

However, the historical “Aruna Shanbaug case” laid the groundwork for the legality of passive euthanasia in India. Initially, the right to end someone’s life was not recognized by the courts.[4]

PETITIONER’S CASE

A Petition was submitted under Article 32[5] of the Indian Constitution by Ms. Shanbaug’s acquaintance Ms. Pinki Verma for the termination of Ms. Shanbaug’s life. According to the petitioner’s attorney, Article 21[6] that is, protection of the right to life and also encompasses the right to live with the greatest possible dignity. Therefore, it must also encompass the right to a dignified death. To put an end to the unending pain and agony, anyone who has a terminal illness or is permanently vegetative must fall under the definition of the “right to die”. She has been bedridden for the past 36 years with no chance of improvement. She is completely unaware of her surroundings, lack of ability to chew her food is unable to speak on her own, and has no awareness of her surroundings. The patient is essentially dead.

CASE OF THE RESPONDENT’S

The hospital’s dean argued that the nurse and other hospital staff had been feeding and caring for Ms. Shanbaug for up to 36 years. She was taken care of by the staff with exceptional responsibility and willingness. As a result, they despise and oppose the idea of killing Ms. Shanbaug.  The patient may die naturally now that she has reached as much as 60 years old.

They pleaded with the court not to allow the killing. All of her basic needs and requirements have been met with respect and diligence by the staff. The practice of euthanasia may be particularly vulnerable to abuse if it is legalized. She has even been willing to be cared for by one of the medical attendants without receiving compensation. In contrast to the staff at the clinic, the petitioner does not have the necessary emotional attachment to the patient and does not have such a close relationship with them.

Because the personnel cared for Ms. Shanbaug for a long time in a diligent and dignified manner. They took care of her essential necessities and needs. They argued with the court to deny the admission of the practice of euthanasia since the legislation of passive euthanasia can be vulnerable to abuse the family members, relatives, and others. One of the nurses at the hospital is willing to care for Ms. Shanbaug for the rest of her life without payment because of the staff’s emotional connection with the patient.

Ms. Shanbaug has a right to life, thus taking her life would be immoral and cruel. Also important to note is the outstanding and selfless service provided by the hospital staff Further since the patient is unable to consent to be removed from the life support system, the issue of who would consent on Ms. Shanbaug’s behalf arises.

JUDGEMENT

The difference between active and passive euthanasia was drawn by the court. Active euthanasia is the intentional and positive ending of a person’s life through injecting or administering a fatal drug. All around the world unless legalized by law, it is regarded as a crime. Sections 302[7] and 304[8] of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 are directly violated by active euthanasia in India. Section 309[9] of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 makes physician-assisted suicide illegal.

On the other side, passive euthanasia involves the removal of medical care or life-supporting mechanisms. The main distinction between active and passive euthanasia is that active euthanasia includes actively choosing to put one’s life to an end, whereas negative euthanasia involves doing nothing. The Supreme Court rejected the petitioner’s argument and instead outlined an appropriate procedure and set of standards for approving passive euthanasia in the “rarest of the rare instances”.

The decision regarding the removal of the life support system would be made by the High Court in accordance with Article 226[10]. The High Court’s Chief Justice must assemble a bench following the receipt of an application, and the bench will then send the case to a committee of three highly regarded doctors. Family members should be given a notice that was issued by the bench after a comprehensive investigation of the patient’s condition is conducted. Quick action is required from High Court.

CONCLUSION

A life of dignity and fulfilment requires the observance of fundamental rights. The Right to Life in Article 21[11] of the Indian Constitution is most likely the most significant Fundamental Right. It is a right that includes a plethora of other rights inside its vast sphere, including the right to legal assistance and the right to a clean environment. The issue that arose in the current case was whether or not this fundamental right includes the right to die, or whether it is possible for someone to have control over their own demise and make the decision to end their life. The improvement in medical law and the potential for family members to abuse this right have made the right to die a crucial issue. By separating between active and passive euthanasia, this case addressed euthanasia in great detail. It was thought about how various jurisdictions’ euthanasia laws worked. In the event that the patient was unable to give consent, the court erased that possibility and designated a representative who may speak with the court on his behalf. Furthermore, it set down regulations describing the circumstances and method of delivering passive euthanasia.

Author(s) Name: Polly Bhardwaj (Rajasthan School of Law for Women)

References:

[1] Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v Union of India & Ors. (2011) 4 SCC 454

[2] Sandeep Rana, ‘The status of Euthanasia under the light of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v Union of India & Ors.’ (Legal Services India) <https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-4135-the-status-of-euthanasia-under-the-light-of-aruna-ramchandra-shanbaug-vs-union-of-india-ors-.html> accessed 06 January 2023

[3] Ankit Kumar, ‘Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs. Union of India Case Summary 2011 SC’ (Law Planet, 09 May 2022) <https://lawplanet.in/aruna-ramchandra-shanbaug-vs-union-of-india/> accessed 06 January 2023

[4] Tanisha Maheshwari, ‘Case analysis of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union of India’ (Manupatra, 14 July 2022) <https://articles.manupatra.com/article-details/Case-analysis-of-Aruna-Ramchandra-Shanbaug-vs-Union-of-India> accessed 06 January 2023

[5] Constitution of India 1950, art 32

[6] Constitution of India 1950, art 21

[7] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 302

[8]Indian Penal Code 1860, s  304

[9]Indian Penal Code 1860, s 309

[10]Constitution of India 1950, art 226

[11]Constitution of India 1950, art 21