Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug passed away this morning. She lived 42 years in a bed of King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. A brutal rape had rendered her comatose. The rapist spent seven years in the prison and became a free man. His victim lived in a vegetative state as a question mark on many things.
The most controversial question her life raised was about the limits and possibilities of euthanasia when Pinki Virani, writer and human rights activist, moved the Supreme Court seeking euthanasia for Aruna in 2011. Can anyone choose another person’s death however absurd that person’s life may be? This was the question that the apex court was faced with. Obviously, the court decided against Virani’s choice. Yet can we blame Virani for what she did? She was being compassionate to Aruna. Compassion and justice need not always be on the same side of morality. That was one of the paradoxes raised by Aruna’s life.
Aruna’s relatives in her home state of Karnataka had abandoned her a few years after the tragedy befell her. They were helpless. Her sister, the only relative who lived in Mumbai, died two years ago. The doctors and nurses of King Edward Memorial Hospital became Aruna’s guardians, caretakers, people who fought against Virani’s compassion. Was it love versus compassion? I guess we cannot dismiss the hospital staff’s attachment to Aruna as mere sympathy. If we call it love, the next paradox raised by Aruna is: can love and compassion be on opposite sides of human emotions?
What would Aruna say if she had the power to choose her destiny? Would she choose Virani or the hospital staff? Whatever her choice, it would have revealed yet another paradox of human nature.
I salute all of the people concerned here. Virani for raising the question about the possibilities of discovering the compassionate aspect of euthanasia. The hospital staff for their tenacious tenderness. And Aruna herself for her endurance, however passive, however conscious or unconscious it was, for being a profound question mark on many aspects of human life.