Wednesday 20 May 2015

Strapped To A Bed For 42 Years, She Finally Finds Relief In Death (So Touching)

There is a room in a Mumbai's King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, which remained occupied by the same patient for over four decades. Today the room finally stands empty. Aruna Shanbaug, the world's oldest comatose patient finally breathed her last after being in a vegetative state and under life support for 42 years.

Four decades of being in a coma is a long time and Aruna's family had long since stopped visiting, allegedly due to pressure by the hospital to take her home. During her last moments, her only companions were the nursing staff of KEM, where Aruna herself once worked.

A junior nurse in KEM in 1973, Aruna's story began like a fairy tale - a pretty smiling nurse who fell in love with the handsome doctor in neurology whom she assisted during work. Families approved and a wedding was on the cards. But fate cruelly intervened in the form of a ward boy-cum-sweeper with whom she once had a minor tiff. In retaliation, he strangled her with dog chain, while he sodomised her.

She was found unconscious the next day by a doctor and the strangulation rendered her brain-dead and she had been lying in KEM ever since. Her fiancé waited four years for her to revive and then succumbing to family pressure, married another woman. As for the ward boy who brutally raped her, he was given only seven years of imprisonment for assault as the courts back then did not count sodomy as rape.

In the last decade, Shanbaug became the face of India's euthanasia debate, after a journalist Pinky Virani, who had been visiting Aruna periodically, filed a petition in the court asking for removal of life support for Aruna Shanbaug.

Euthanasia or mercy killing for such vegetative patients is a debate happening in many countries. Should the state grant relief from pain and agony for patients living in coma for so long that there is no hope for revival, or will that be construed as murder?

Active euthanasia, where the patient is given a lethal injection is considered illegal in all countries. However, some countries do allow passive euthanasia. After much debate, the Supreme Court in India passed a landmark judgement in 2011 allowing for passive euthanasia or gradual withdrawal of life support systems and food for the comatose patient.

Ironically, the person who was responsible for bringing it about, Aruna Shanbaug, was denied the dignity of a mercy killing as the hospital staff actively campaigned against her euthanasia.

Today, four years after the judgment, Aruna Shanbaug has finally got a natural reprieve from the life of hell that she led for the past 42 years. She should have gotten this relief many, many years ago.

There is probably nobody who remembers Aruna for what she was when she was alive and healthy and awake. The pretty smiling girl was long gone. Shrunken and alone in death though, perhaps there is still dignity in her passing. At least she is no longer strapped to a bed, force fed mush and wiped by strangers every day.

Image Courtesy: BCCL
By Vasundara R

Refrence: idiva

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