With the Supreme Court revisiting the debate on legalising euthanasia, any verdict would affect the future of Aruna Shanbaug, the 65-year-old nurse who has been lying in a vegetative state at the KEM hospital for 40 years.
While the Supreme Court (SC) had earlier rejected the plea of active euthanasia – where lethal substances are used to aid death of a terminally ill patient – the guidelines are to be re-examined by a five-bench Constitution bench.
The court had rejected the plea on a public interest litigation filed by Common Cause, a non-governmental organisation, contending that when a medical expert opined that a person afflicted with terminal disease has reached a point of no return, the person should be granted the right to refuse being put on life-support system.
But any mention of euthanasia with reference to Shanbaug irks the nurses at the hospital.
"The SC has made it amply clear that it is the KEM nurses who are the 'next best friends' of Shanbaug. We will not allow mercy killing. Aruna still responds to sound, light and taste. Why would such a person be killed," asked a KEM staff nurse.
Everyday, a team from the medicine department visits Shanbaug and conducts a check-up. "Her vitals signs are normal. Her health had deteriorated in November and she was admitted to the MICU. But now she is back to how she has been all these years. She is not on life support," the nurse said.
"The entire staff takes such good care of Shanbaug that she has not developed a single bed sore. We will not give up on Aruna," said another resident staff nurse.
In 1973, Shanbaug, working as a staff nurse at KEM hospital, was brutally assaulted by a ward boy, who tried to choke her with a dog chain.
"Her brain, devoid of oxygen, was shriveled. She was reduced to a near vegetative state, not being able to walk or talk. Her physical responses have been compromised highly but she still reacts to sound and taste," said a doctor.
SC to reconsider legalising euthanasia
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court referred the issue of legalising euthanasia in the country to a five-member Constitution bench, saying there had been inconsistent opinion in its previous verdicts on withdrawing medical aid for terminally ill patients. A three-judge bench headed by chief justice P Sathasivam said that it is extremely important to have a clear enunciation of law on this issue and referred the matter to a larger Constitution bench. The court said that the Constitution bench will go into all aspects of the issue and take a final decision on framing guidelines.