Three months ago Aruna Shanbaug, 65, was shifted back to her newly furbished room at the municipal corporation-run KEM Hospital in Parel after a week-long stay in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Shanbaug, a former nurse at the hospital, has been lying there a vegetative state for the last 41 years, after she was sexually assaulted by a hospital sweeper in November 1973.
In March 2011, the Supreme Court had rejected a petition filed by author Pinki Virani seeking mercy killing for Shanbaug, which the hospital's management and nursing staff had opposed. Virani had told the story of the nurse in her 1998 book ‘Aruna’s Story’.
"After this petition, the medical terms - brain stem death and persistent vegetative state - became a legal reality. Passive euthanasia is known concept in India and among the Jain community it is known as santhara," said Virani. "For Shanbaug it is for her legal guardian to decide if they want to opt for passive euthanasia."
But Shanbaug’s family have not visited her for a long time and her closest relative, a sister who lived in Worli, died recently. The KEM Hospital nurses have been her only family. The nurses, who have attended to Shanbaug for the last many years, continue to oppose the idea of mercy killing for her. "People have perceived that she is in pain.
The nurses have taken excellent care of her that she has never suffered a single bed sore. We will never allow anyone to give her euthanasia. She will go when it is destined, "said Suman Bhosale, said a former nurse at the hospital.
Bhide and many nurses like her come to hospital regularly to visit Shanbaug. "Euthanasia could be considered for those who have expressed their prior willingness for it in cases where there is no medical hope. But when it comes to Shanbaug, she never expressed any such wish and the hospital is attending to all her needs," said Dr Sanjay Oak, former dean of KEM Hospital who was incharge of the hospital when the Supreme Court was hearing Shanbaug's mercy killing petition.
Present dean of KEM Hospital, Dr Shubhangi Parkar, said, "The last decision is on our hospital and we will never allow euthanasia for her. We were worried when she was in the ICU, but she battled the pneumonia. Her condition is stable now and she is being fed through a tube."