03/07/2011, 00.00
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In historic verdict, Indian Supreme Court says no to euthanasia

by Nirmala Carvalho
The judges reject author’s petition for active euthanasia for a nurse paralyzed since 1973. Doctors confirm: "she takes food in a normal manner and responds with facial expressions" and she also reacts “in an intermittent manner to commands, expressing sounds. " The verdict greeted with joy in the hospital: "It is a gift for Women's Day."

 Mumbai (AsiaNews) – On March 7, the Supreme Court rejected the request for euthanasia for Aruna Shanbaug, advanced by the writer Pinki Virani. The court noted that " passive euthanasia is permissible under supervision of law but active euthanasia is not permitted under the law". The judges observed that there is a need for legislation on euthanasia, but that until there is no new law, the Supreme Court's decision stands. Aruna Shanbaug was working as a nurse at Mumbai's KEM Hospital when on the night of November 27, 1973, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, a ward attendent at the hospital, attacked and tried to strangle her in the hospital basement. The man was sentenced to seven years in prison. Aruna suffered severe brain damage and was left almost completely paralyzed. Pinki Virani in his book argues that she is "practically dead" and therefore, that it is only fair to suspend feeding and hydration. The hospital authorities told the court that she "accepts food in the normal manner and responds with facial expressions," and reacts "in an intermittent manner to the commands, expressing sounds."

Dr. Sanjay Oak, hospital spokesman, welcomed the verdict. " Our hospital staff are happy to look after her. They have been doing so for many years. It is good that this case has opened a debate on euthanasia. In a four-page affidavit, filed by the KEM Hospital staff (doctors JV Divatia, Roop Gurshani and Nilesh Shah, pictured) they told the judges: "With every new batch of entrants, the student nurses are introduced to her and they are told she was one of us and she continues to be on of us. The very idea of withholding food or putting her to sleep by active medication is extremely difficult for anybody in this hospital to accept. Aruna is over 60 and one day meet will her natural end. The doctors, nurses and staff of KEM are determined to take care of her till her last breath".

Even Dr. Pascoal Carvalho, a member of the Diocesan Commission on human life of the Archdiocese of Mumbai has spoken favourably to the verdict. "We welcome the rejection of Aruna Shanbaug's euthanasia petition. Our Judges have given their verdict in favour of a culture of life, India is steeped in spirituality, where human life is considered sacred.  God alone has ownership of human life and no one can assume this right. Euthanasia, mercy killing and assisted suicide are always immoral and cannot receive sanction . To hold up mercy killing as a positive thing is an offense to the dignity of the human person"

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