Aruna Shanbaug: A Traumatized Judgement?

Posted on March 16, 2011 in Specials

By Shivani Singh:

Aruna Shanbaug, a 61 year old woman has been in a vegetative state for the past 38 years, now the SC rejects her plea of mercy killing (euthanasia) stating that man cannot take anything away which it cannot give. The court in its judgment also requested the constitution to abolish section 309 of the IPC (attempt to suicide) , giving the reason that the person needs treatment and not punishment.

Aruna suffered for 38 years and still is while Sohanlal Walmiki — who committed this heinous crime served only 7 years in jail on account of “robbery” but not on “sexual harassment” or “rape”. Is this the state of justice in our country? Is this what our judiciary can provide?

Aruna’s story has a great emotional side to it also. The fateful night of 27th November, 1973, changed Aruna’s life completely. She was to leave the KEM hospital the next day on account of her wedding leave. There is more to the case than meets the eye. The hospital authorities tried to hide the fact that she was a victim of “anal sex” also because they didn’t want “defamation” to dawn upon her as she had an impending marriage. But is this the truth? Or was the hospital trying to save their own face? Its because of them that the convicted got only 7 years jail since the police were not given substantial evidence.

Aruna was strangulated by a dog chain which damaged her brain stem, paralyzed her and blinded her . The judicial system views the situation from the 3rd party objective but fails to understand what the victim is going through — living like a vegetable.

This is not just a case with legal aspects but it is the greatest case in the Indian Judicial System dealing with moral and ethical issues. Is our society mature enough to use this judgment of euthanasia properly or is it still naïve? Will the people of India use this in order to get property — kill their parents without reason? These are unanswered questions about our society.

The judgment by the Supreme Court allows passive euthanasia but forbids active euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is withholding of medication, removal of life support systems while active euthanasia is administering lethal substances through injection to put the person in a deep sleep which leads to death. Active euthanasia ensures that something is done to end the person’s life while in passive euthanasia something is not done that would have preserved the patients life a little longer. Passive euthanasia allows the person to die a natural death.

Will we use this judgement wisely in the treatment of certain cases? Who will decide what comprises of these “certain cases”? Should Aruna be given the chance to decide? Let’s hope that we educate and spread awareness amongst the youth, so that the gift of our Supreme Court’s judgment could be used wisely. We saw the work of a journalist Pinki Virani who had first reported this case 25 years ago in 1990. She also wrote a book “Aruna’s Story” to spread more awareness. We should take example and help such issues come up to the surface. Although most of the news articles and stories published seem to focus on the emotional angle of the suffering of the victim and the travesty of justice – they fail to elaborate that the legal system and the police were frustrated in their genuine and earnest efforts for a proper conviction due to distortion of the facts by hospital authorities due to concerns extraneous to the judicial process. So we need to be responsible now and understand what lies ahead of us.