Aruna Shanbaug’s death triggers euthanasia debate, many want mercy killing to be legalised

Published May 19, 2015, 12:36 pm IST
Updated Mar 29, 2019, 3:52 am IST
Her death has reopened the debate of legalisation of active euthanasia in India

Hyderabad: Thirty-year-old Mr Srinivas (name changed) of Hyderabad is married with two daughters. He prays for death every day as he battles a severe form of stomach cancer at a city hospital. He is going through unbearable pain and cannot eat or drink anything without vomiting it out.

Ramesh from Andhra Pradesh recently died at 23 because of cancer. He would desperately wait for death even though he was the sole breadwinner of his family.
Both these patients would have opted for active euthanasia if it was legal in India. The death of Aruna Shanbaug on Monday, who was in a vegetative state for more than four decades, has reopened the debate of legalisation of active euthanasia in India.


Read: Aruna Shanbaug's culprit started a new life

Dr Phani Sree, a palliative care specialist and geriatrician, says, “I am not a supporter of active euthanasia but I do respect a patient’s will. If a person is suffering immeasurable pain for too long and does not want it to continue, it should be his conscious decision to live or die. I have met patients suffering from terminal illnesses who yearn for death and so do the families of some of them. If active euthanasia is made legal there will be many terminally ill patients who would take it up.”


However, there is the other side of the coin too. Dr Meena Hariharan, director, Center for Health Psychology at University of Hyderabad says, “Active euthanasia is hastening the process of dying. In passive euthanasia life support is withdrawn and death comes naturally, but active euthanasia amounts to taking life. The Indian psyche is an emotional one. Question arises whether a family can live with the guilt of allowing the life of a loved one to be taken. Moreover, there is the issue of ethics as doctors might not be ready to actively take someone's life against their Hippocratic Oath.”


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Giving the example of a man diagnosed with cancer, Dr Hariharan said, “The doctors gave him around eight years to live. For six years he boldly fought the disease but there came a point where he said he could not take it anymore. However, none of his family members, including a person who had been a doctor for more than two decades in Netherlands where active euthanasia is legal, suggested it. They decided for passive euthanasia.”

Read: Comatose Nurse Aruna Shanbaug passes away


Aruna Shanbaug, the young nurse who was raped and gagged with a dog chain that left her in a coma for 42 years and made her the face of a debate on euthanasia in India, died on Monday, bringing to an end one of the most tragic journeys of a victim of sexual assault. It also brought to a close the painstaking, selfless service rendered by the fellow nurses of Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital who never gave up hope and nursed her despite the Supreme Court verdict allowing “passive euthanasia”.