Destiny cannot be changed but if peers and employers demonstrated such collective compassion and empathy, a victim's right to life would not need to be invoked in Courts
Aruna Shanbaug breathed her last in KEM Hospital after 42 years of being in a vegetative state. On 27 November 1973, she was brutally assaulted and dragged with a dog chain around her neck that led to brain stem contusion and a cervical chord injury. Like every victim desires, she demonstrated her will to live, which was supported by utmost care and support of her employer and peers, making this story of survival exemplary of compassion and commitment.
In 2011, the Supreme Court held that Aruna Shanbaug is not brain dead and the only legitimate surrogate to decide the question of her treatment was the dean and staff of KEM hospital.
We read reports of how India has become a nation of onlookers. The media stories will focus on the heinousness of the crime and the debate on euthanasia. But what failed to receive recognition and acknowledgement is the role of her employer to allow her the right to life.
The contents of the affidavit filed by the Dean of KEM, Dr. Sanjay Oak in the Supreme Court to oppose the petition for euthanasia are soul stirring and heart wrenching.
Dr. Sanjay Oak stated…
“Aruna has been our staff nurse and the unfortunate tragic incident happened with her in KEM hospital. She has been in a state that is similar to cerebral palsy in the new-born child. In a layman’s words – Aruna lives in her own world. The doctors, nursing and para medical staff is extremely attached to her as ‘one of us’. She is on liquid diet and loves to listen to music. She has never been subject to intravenous food or fed via a tube. It is not a case for coma. I must put on record that in the world history of medicine there would not be a single case where such a person is cared and nurtured in bed for 33 years and has not developed a single bed sore. This speaks volume of the excellence of nursing care that KEM has given to her...This is not as part of duty but as part of feeling of oneness. In my opinion, this is one of the finest example of love, professionalism, dedication and commitment to one’s professional colleague, who is ailing and cannot support herself. Not once in these 33 years, has anybody thought of ending her vegetative existence.
Right from the illustrious Dr CK Deshpande, Dr RJ Shirahatti, Dr Smt NA Kshirsagar, Dr ME Yeolekar, and now myself, all of us have visited her room time and again and have cared for her and seen her through ups and downs. The very idea of withholding food or putting her to sleep by active medication is extremely difficult for anybody working in Seth GSMC and KEM hospital to accept. I sincerely make a plea to the learned counsel and Hon’ble Court that this should not be allowed. The doctors, nurses, and KEM staff are determined to take care of her till her last breath by natural process.
When those looking after her do not have a problem, I do not understand why a third party, who has nothing to do with her care, needs to worry. As a clinical surgeon for last three decades and as an administrator of the hospital for last seven years and as a student of legal system of India (as I hold a Bachelor of Law’ degree from Mumbai University), I feel that the entire society has not matured enough to accept the execution of an Act of euthanasia or mercy killing. To me, any mature society is best judged by its capacity and commitment to take care of its ‘invalid’ ones, who are children of lesser God.
Aruna has crossed 60 years of life and would one day meet her natural death.”
Aruna was allowed her natural death, just as destiny may have it. She was in her early 60s, deserted by most of her relatives during her lifetime but was looked after with dedication by nurses of Asia's largest public healthcare facility, the BMC-run KEM Hospital where she lay in Ward No. 4A.
What have been seen to triumph are the spirit of humanity and an unprecedented duty of care of an employer and professional peers. This did not go unnoticed by the Supreme Court, which held that the whole country must learn the meaning of dedication and sacrifice from the KEM hospital staff.