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Aruna Shanbaug dies ending four decade-long ordeal

Aruna Shanbaug

Mumbai: 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 today, 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”.

Aruna, 66, probably one of the longest living comatose patients, was on ventilator support in the ICU of KEM Hospital after she suffered a serious bout of pneumonia last week.

Aruna, whose dream of nursing the infirm and the ailing back to health had died young on November 27, 1973, when she was sexually assaulted, battered and strangled by ward boy Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, could not survive the infection and died early this morning.

She had also suffered grave injuries to her spine, while the stifling cut off oxygen supply to her brain, rendering her to a vegetative state for life.

Sohanlal was caught and convicted, and served two concurrent seven-year sentences for assault and robbery, but neither for rape nor sexual molestation, nor for the alleged offence of “unnatural sex”.

Aruna, who was ever since be confined to a hospital bed, occupied a room attached to ward No.4 on the ground floor of KEM Hospital and the hearts of the staff and nurses there who foiled an attempt by the city’s Municipal body to evict her in the 1980s.

As the KEM nurses toiled to keep her alive, a journalist Pinki Virani moved the Supreme Court with a euthanasia plea to rid Aruna of unremitting agony.

On January 24, 2011, the Supreme Court set up a medical panel to examine her. The committee concluded that Aruna met most of the criteria of being in a permanently vegetative state.

While turning down the plea of mercy killing on March 7, 2011, the apex court, however, allowed “passive euthanasia” of withdrawing life support to patients in permanently vegetative state (PVS). It rejected outright active euthanasia of ending life through administration of lethal substances.

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