Aruna Shanbaug: A story of life and death
Neetu Banga | 23 Feb 2011
Kept alive by the force-feeding of mashed food, she has earned, just by lying there, decade after decade, the tragic record of being the world's longest-staying patient in any hospital.
ARUNA SHANBAUG can be seen lying in a twilight zone between life and death, since the night of November 27, 1973, when she was attacked by a ward boy who tied a dog chain around her neck, cutting off air supply to parts of her brain, and hurled her in the basement of Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, where she worked as a nurse. She is lies alone, her eyes are open and staring vacantly into space.
The thirty-six-plus years after being subjected to a horrific attack that rendered her partially brain-dead, in a semi-coma in her bed at KEM, unable to see, speak, walk or even move her hands. Kept alive by the force-feeding of mashed food, she has earned, just by lying there, decade after decade, the tragic record of being the world’s longest-staying patient in any hospital.
On March 2, 2011 the Supreme Court is slated to hear a petition filed by activist-journalist Pinki Virani, is now seeking the court’s intervention to direct KEM to stop feeding Aruna Shanbaug, and release her from the prison of her life.
Pinki’s petition before the apex court states: “Aruna cannot be said to exist in the sense a human being is supposed to live. She is virtually a skeleton.”
This case has no parallel in the country’s medico-legal history and country has growing tribes of mercy killing advocates. In the past, courts have often received petitions from terminally ill patients seeking an end to their pain by asking for death but all application got rejected on one principle that right of life is sacred.
In mostly cases, the petitions filled by their distance and blood relatives but what makes this case unique is that person unrelated to Aruna, moved by her unrelenting suffering, has filed this petition. The Supreme Court has not rejected it outright. In fact, it has appointed amicus curiae and directed a three-doctor panel to examine Aruna and submit a report by February 22.
Dean of KEM has said that it is their foremost duty to take care of Aruna. The way she has been taken care of also speaks volumes about the nursing at the hospital. Unless the ailing person himself or herself expresses such a desire, who are we to decide that he or she should no longer live. She is in hospital’s care because her relatives refused to look after her. The case is hanging between advocates and doctors opinion. The ball is in apex court.