Friday, December 18, 2009

Mumbai to Address Removal from ANH.

From Times Online, a story about the court battle in Mumbai to remove a woman in a vegetative state for 36 years from artificial nutrition and hydration:

Aruna Shanbaug was raped 36 years ago at the Mumbai hospital where she worked as a nurse. She has remained in the same hospital ever since; brain dead, confined to bed in a vegetative state.

Now the country’s highest court has said that it will consider whether to allow Ms Shanbaug, 61, to die — a landmark decision that could recast laws on euthanasia in India, where mercy killings are illegal. According to Pinki Virani, a journalist who filed a petition pleading for Ms Shanbaug, who was 25 at the time of the brutal attack, to be allowed to die, her current state makes her “virtually a dead person”.

During the assault Ms Shanbaug’s assailant, a hospital cleaner, wrapped a dog chain around her neck. It cut off the bloodflow to her brain and damaged her brain stem, leaving her paralysed. She is now force-fed by nurses twice a day at the King Edward Memorial Hospital and cannot speak, see or hear.Her attacker, Sohanlal Bartha Walmiki, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 1974 for attempted murder and robbery.

Ms Virani wants the court to issue instructions to “ensure that no food is fed”, an act that is at present outlawed. Previous pleas for euthanasia on behalf of coma victims have been rejected.However, while the Supreme Court initially issued a notice stating that “under the law of the country,

we cannot allow a person to die” it has since suggested that withholding food from Ms Shanbaug might not be considered euthanasia, since “her life is worse than animal existence”. It has ordered a medical evaluation of her condition.

The petition to the Supreme Court claims that Ms Shanbaug’s right to human dignity, enshrined in the Indian Constitution, is being violated by keeping her alive. “She has a right to not be in this kind of subhuman condition,” it says.

According to Ms Virani, Ms Shanbaug’s condition has deteriorated over the years.

“She is not able to talk, hear or see anything. She is like a vegetable, totally devoid of any element of human life,” she said.

The petition adds that Ms Shanbaug’s parents died many years ago and “none of her sisters or brothers or any other relative has ever bothered to visit her”. Her former fiancé, who was a doctor at the hospital, occasionally visits her.

In a book she wrote about the patient in 1997, Ms Virani described how she existed “in a totally pathetic state. 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.”

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