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Justice denied

It is perhaps redundant and repetitive to say that fundamental rights are necessary for leading a dignified and fulfilling life. Probably the most important Fundamental Right in the Indian Constitution is the Right to Life under Article 21. It is a right that encompasses within its broad domain the right to legal aid, the right to a clean environment, and a plethora of other rights. The question that came to be considered in the Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug Vs Union of India case was whether the right to die was included in the ambit of Article 21; whether a person can be allowed to control the time of his/her death and decide to end his/her life? The right to die has become important considering the advancement in medical jurisprudence and also the possibility of misuse of this right by impatient family members. 

This case dealt with euthanasia in detail by distinguishing between active and passive euthanasia. Laws relating to euthanasia in different jurisdictions were also considered. The court ultimately turned down the mercy killing petition on 7 March 2011. However in its landmark judgment, it allowed passive euthanasia in India. Examinations of euthanasia raise hues and cries from various pro-life lobbies. However, euthanasia is hardly a black and white matter. The Spanish language movie Mar Adentro, which stars Oscar winner Javier Bardem, captures the brutally excruciating reality of those who wish to die but no longer have the capacity or the cognition to do it themselves. Confined to the bed and unable to move anything other than his facial muscles, Bardem captures the hope and despair of a man convinced that life has nothing left to offer him. 

A bold, <g data-gr-id="48">humane</g> performance, it makes you sympathize completely with his wish to die. Yet, you also realise just how precious this sharp-witted man’s life is to those around him. Aruna Shanbaug died today. She died as she lived, with dignity. This despite the fact that life did not afford her even a semblance of a  fair chance at living with dignity. Shanbaug was sexually assaulted by a hospital ward boy on 27 November 1973 and was in a state of coma ever since. Shanbaug, a nurse at KEM Hospital, was raped and assaulted by a subordinate on  November 27 of that year. Aruna was to get married soon. 

The accused Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki choked Aruna with a dog chain before raping and robbing her as she was preparing to leave after her shift. And Aruna was left speechless — quite literally. When <g data-gr-id="47">Walmiki</g> choked her, <g data-gr-id="45">oxygen</g> supply to parts of her brain was cut off and she could no longer speak. She also became cortically blind, lost the use of her limbs, muscle control and suffered  symptoms of emotional disability, which were manifested in bouts of inappropriate laughter or screaming. Her memory and most of her other mental faculties were also gone. For almost four decades, Aruna existed in a semi-conscious limbo, diligently looked after by sympathetic nurses and doctors at KEM Hospital. Never fully dead but not completely alive either, caught between this and perhaps the next one. Like a living ghost perhaps. What’s perhaps jarring in all this was the sad reality that <g data-gr-id="49">Walmiki</g> was allowed to start life afresh. <g data-gr-id="37">Life</g> which was neither taken away from Aruna nor given to her.

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