The London Independent newspaper (27 January 2011) carried an extraordinary story about a nurse who has been lying in bed for thirty-eight years in an Indian hospital. In 1973, the nurse, Aruna Shanbang, was subjected to an horrendous attack that left her brain-damaged, and she has since then been fed on a liquid diet. Prior to her having been attacked she had worked at the hospital, and she is looked on with great affection by the hospital authorities. However, the author of a book written about her case seeks to have the Supreme Court order that Aruna continue to be fed by hospital staff quashed, because her condition ‘means she does not have the standard of life guaranteed by the Indian constitution.’
In her petition to the court, the author of the book requests that instructions be issued ‘to forthwith ensure that no food is fed’ to Aruna. The petition continues: ‘This vegetative existence devoid of any human dignity is not life at all and putting mashed food in her mouth only amounts to violation of human dignity.’
It appears that none of Aruna’s family or friends is willing to come forward to defend her.
To their credit, however, the officials at the hospital where she is being cared for have denounced the claims of the writer, insisting that their patient is not in ‘as dire condition as the writer suggests. … She means a lot to KEM [the hospital in question]. She is on a liquid diet, and loves listening to music. We have never subjected her to intravenous food or fed her via a tube. When those looking after her do not have a problem, I don’t understand why a party who has nothing to do with her needs to worry. We have no moral right to terminate her life. I am against euthanasia for Shanbang.’