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ritu bhadana (advocate)     18 December 2009

Supreme Court Admits Euthanasia Plea

 Supreme Court Admits Euthanasia Plea By Rape Victim

The plight of a 61-year-old women, who suffered a brutal s*xual assault 36 years ago and has been lying in a vegetative state in a Mumbai hospital ever since, has moved the Supreme Court into setting aside its pro-life stance and examining the woman’s plea that her life be ended. 

The woman, Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug, does not want to live any more. Doctors have told her there is no chance of any improvement in her state. So she, through her ‘next friend’ Pinki Virani, decided to move the SC with a plea to ‘‘direct KEM Hospital not to force-feed her’’. 

‘‘Is this plea not akin to euthanasia?’’ asked a Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices A K Ganguly and B S Chauhan, when the matter came up for hearing. 

To this, her counsel Shekhar Naphade countered: ‘‘Is not keeping the woman in this persistent vegetative state by force-feeding violative of her right to live with dignity guaranteed by Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution?’’ 

‘‘She is beyond cure. Let the court inquire about what medical science has in store for her. It appears there has been utter indifference of medical world towards her. The SC has to lay down some guideline in such cases,’’ he added. 

The pro-life apex court, which had negated pleas of termination of pregnancy of a mentally retarded girl resulting from a rape at a Nari Niketan in Chandigarh and a similar plea from a Mumbai couple for terminating a diseased fetus, asked Naphade: ‘‘Do you mean right to life includes right to die?’’ 

Without taking the risk of hinging his arguments on that line, Naphade gave it a small tweak and said: ‘‘She is going through a torture of a life. Is this human rights? Should the medical authorities not be activated to do something? This is not a case to be left aside and forgotten. The apex court must lay down some guidelines.’’ 

Setting aside its previous position on the issue, the bench agreed to examine the merits of the petition and sought responses from the Union government, Maharashtra, Municipal Corporation of Brihan Mumbai, Commissioner of Mumbai Police and Dean of KEM Hospital. 

This is how her next friend — a legal term used for a person speaking on behalf of someone who is incapacitated — describes Shanbaug: ‘‘Her bones are brittle. Her skin is like ‘papier mache’ stretched over a skeleton. Her wrists are twisted inwards, her fingers are bent and fisted towards her palms, resulting in growing nails tearing into the flesh very often. Her teeth are decayed and giving her pain. Food is mashed and given to her in semi-solid form. She is in a persistent vegetative state.’’


Aruna Shanbaug was a nurse from Haldipur, Shimoga, Karnataka. In 1973, while she was working at KEM Hospital, Parel, Mumbai, she was assaulted by  Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, a ward boy at the hospital. Walmiki was motivated partly by resentment for being ordered about and castigated by Shanbaug.

On the night of 27 November, 1973 he attacked her while she was changing clothes in the hospital basement for leaving her shift. He choked her with a dog chain and sodomized her. The asphyxiation during the course of the assault cut off oxygen supply to her brain resulting in brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury as well as leaving her cortically blind.

The initial medical examination to verify rape as the crime found that Aruna had no v**ginal bruises and her hymen was intact. Aruna was menstruating on the day and therefore the rapist did not penetrate her. Subsequent medical reports prove that she bled for days together from the anus.

The police case was registered as a case of  robbery and attempted murder, but not  rape on account of the concealment of anal rape by the doctors under the instructions of the Dean of KEM, the late Dr. Deshpande perhaps to avoid the social ostracisation which might break her impending marriage to her young doctor fiancé, Dr. Sundeep Sardesai. Since the assault  she has been in a vegetative state till date.

Following the attack, nurses went on strike to demand improved working conditions in Mumbai hospitals and better treatment for Shanbaug.

Author and journalist Pinki Virani’s  first book Aruna’s Story,  about Aruna Shanbag  hit the headlines in 1998.



 11 Replies

Anish goyal (Advocate)     18 December 2009

lets wait a good judgemnt on the issue.

N.K.Assumi (Advocate)     18 December 2009


Rekha..... ( Practicing lawyer(B.Com LL.M in Business law ))     18 December 2009

“Right to die” No discussion only interesting and lets wait for good judgement??

Forgive please If I m wrong…..According to me this should be implemented and amended as a fundamental right. I watched very interesting debate on NDTV24x7 by conducted by Barkha  Datt n I also came to the conclusion that there should be a ‘ Right to Die’ in special circumstances. Definitely disadvantages r there.
Senior members please discuss this issue. Thnks Ritu for posting this tragic incident

ritu bhadana (advocate)     18 December 2009

even i agree with u rekha.......right to die must be implemented in special circumstances. in the above case d victim is nt evn havn a mere 'animal existence'. The story is nt only tragic but also raises an issue of a failed administration and loopholes in our system. The accused was only charged with attempt to murder and concealment of jwllry. He ws only convicted fr 7 yrs. n still working in a hospital in delhi.

On Right to die views of the ld. members are welcomed.  

Shree. ( Advocate.)     18 December 2009

Really pathetic case. In the news item it is not mentioned as to what happened to the attacker Walmiki.Any News relating to him?

ritu bhadana (advocate)     18 December 2009

 The rapist was convicted for seven years in jail, and is believed to have started a new life in another hospital in New Delhi. The Aruna case was registered as a case of robbery and attempt to murder, but not rape. T o further read Aruna's Story and plight plz go through https://www.listown.com/group/aruna-shanbaug-s-story-8666

Bhartiya No. 1 (Nationalist)     19 December 2009

First make anyone’s life miserable and when it becomes worthless then admit euthanasia plea. This is pathetic and is a shame for entire nation. When govt. can provide health facilities to VIPs at abroad at state expenses, then why it is not being extended to this ill – fated victim.  Also attacker should have hanged. I remember a similar incident had happened at Bokaro Jharkhand, where a meritorious girl of 11th standard 16years old was kidnapped in the evening, when she was on evening walk by 23 persons, and then she was gang raped by all of them. After this incidence the girl went into trauma and is completely deranged mentally, her life became burden.  All rapists get only 10 years imprisonment, with Rs. 5000/per head fine. The judge had directed the fine collected should go to girl for her treatment. What a great judgment? What will happen to that girl? Who will look after her after the death of her parent? Will she be get treatment with that much money? In another incident some people kidnapped three girls raped them and then finally killed them and the great judgment was 10 years Imprisonment to all. Ruining of a life is so easy in this great nuclear armed Country called India?

N.K.Assumi (Advocate)     19 December 2009

Very disturbing and unfortunate.                                                                                 

Manish Singh (Advocate)     19 December 2009

ritu..its so great of you to let us see the pathetic state of that lady and also the state of our lax indian judiciary and executives.

two issues arises herein. one the indian laxity and the second whether right to die should be included under the term right to life under Art 21 of the Constitution.

the first one is well known and we need t wake up if we dont this kind of working conditions in india or around or in our society.

the second one, i strongly feel that right to die is itself included in the term right to life as waht the SC had been interpreting the term riht to life means to live with dignity, education, rights and all that.   so even if e interpret th trm right to die in this context, it comes out that in exceptional conditions as stated above for that lady where she is living in pathetic condition for last around 36 yrs, the same can not be called living the life with dignity so she must be given right to end her life. i strongly support this contention and hope the SCthis time lays dwn rules for that.

1 Like

Hardik Mehta (Family Counsellor)     21 December 2009

 Right to die should also be clubbed along with the assisted suicide so that the patient will not suffer. This is done in many parts of Europe where the terminally ill patients, mentally retarded patients and those suffering from such conditions are giving the right to die. In Swizerland, there are assisted suicide clinics where the patients wish are fulfilled. 36 years is the hell a lot of time of torture. 

Bhartiya No. 1 (Nationalist)     24 December 2009

Respected Experts,

Corruption and attitude of govt. servants have made my life miserable. I am not in a position to change the system. My life has become living dead body. I am not in a position to commit suicide. I am forced to live. I want medical assisted death. Do I have right to die or not? Will any court will accept my  Euthanasia Plea?

Thanks to all.

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