Raped Nurse Dies After 42 Years in Coma

Aruna Shanbaug became face of euthanasia debate in India
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2015 9:00 AM CDT
Raped Nurse Dies After 42 Years in Coma
This photo shows Aruna Shanbaug before an attack left her brain-dead and paralyzed.   (Uncredited)

Nurse Aruna Shanbaug was 25 when a cleaner at the Mumbai hospital in which she worked sodomized and choked her with metal dog chains. That was Nov. 27, 1973. Left brain-dead and paralyzed, she was kept alive by doctors at King Edward Memorial Hospital who fed her through a feeding tube for four decades. Six days ago, she developed pneumonia; Shanbaug passed away today, just shy of her 68th birthday, the Times of India reports. While alive, Shanbaug became the face of a euthanasia debate in India, whose Supreme Court denied a request to let her die in 2011, the BBC reports. "My broken, battered baby bird finally flew away," says Pinki Virani, a journalist and author who filed the case rejected by the Supreme Court and wrote extensively about Shanbaug's plight. "And she gave India a passive euthanasia law before doing so."

Though Virani had hoped the court would order the hospital to stop feeding Shanbaug, it instead sided with hospital bosses, who argued Shanbaug "accepts food ... and responds by facial expressions." But the BBC notes the case did lead to a loosening of "some restrictions on euthanasia." A terminally ill patient in India can now be taken off life support in exceptional circumstances if family members want that to happen. (The Wall Street Journal explains that because Shanbaug's parents were dead, the hospital was considered her caregiver, hence the court siding with it.) Her attacker, Sohanlal Bharta Walmiki, served seven years for attempted murder and robbery but was never charged with rape because sodomy wasn't mentioned in India's rape laws. "Perhaps she is paying for what she did in her last life," a nurse says in Virani's book, Aruna's Story, per Firstpost. "Perhaps, like your Jesus Christ, she is paying for all our sins." (Read more euthanasia stories.)

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