Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug Vs Union of India & Ors.


The Case Brief

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug


Union of India & Ors.

Petitioner- Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug

Respondents- Union of India & Ors.

Statutes Referred-

  • The Constitution of India.
  • The Indian Penal Code.
  • U.K. Mental Capacity Act, 2005.
  • Termination of life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act, 2002,(Netherlands).
  • Burial and Cremation Act,(Netherlands).
  • Swiss Penal Code, 1942.
  • Oregon Death with Dignity Act, 1997.
  • Washington Death with Dignity Act, 2008.
  • Texas Futile Care Law, 1999.
  • The Criminal Code of Canada.
  • Transplantation of Human Organs Act,  1994.

Cases Referred-

  • Gian Kaur v/s. State of Punjab, 1996 (2) SCC 648.
  • Vikram Deo Singh Tomar v/s. State of Bihar 1988 (Suppl) SCC 734
  • P.Rathinam v/s Union of India & Anr. (1994) 3 SCC 394.
  • Airedale v/s. Director MHD (1993) 2 WLR 316.
  • Postma Case, Netherlands, 1973.
  • Gonzalez v/s. Oregon, 2006.
  • Baxter v/s. Montana , 31 Dec 2009.
  • Sue Rodriguez v/s. British Columbia (Attorney General), (1993) 2 SCR 519.
  • Charan Lal Sahu v/s. Union of India (1990) 1 SCC 613.
  • State of Kerala v/s. N.M. Thomas, 1976 (1) SCR 906.
  • Dwarka Nath v/s. ITO AIR 1996 SC 81.
  • Shri Anandi Mukta Sadguru v/s. V.R.Rudani AIR 1989 SC 1607.


The petitioner was a staff nurse working in King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEM) Parel, Mumbai. On an evening she was attacked by a sweeper in the hospital who wrapped a chain around her neck and pulled her back with it. He tried to rape her but on finding out she was menstruating, he sodomized her. To immobilize her during the act he twisted the chain around her neck. On the next day, a cleaner found her lying unconscious with blood all over the floor. It was alleged that due to strangulation supply of oxygen to the brain stopped and brain got damaged , the neurologist in the hospital found that she had plantars  extensor, which indicates the damages to the cortex or some other part of the brain. She also had a brain stem contusion injury with associated cervical cord injury. It was alleged that 36 years has been passed since the incident and now petitioner is about 60 years of age.

The petitioner prayer from the court was that respondents should be directed to feeding Aruna and let her die peacefully,  as alleged by the petitioner that since last 36 years she is in persistent vegetative state and has no state of awareness and her brain activity is virtually dead along with several others things alleged by the petitioner.

The issue was very serious so the court decided to go deeper in the merits of the case and notice was issued to the respondents.

A counter affidavit was filed on behalf of respondents which varied from the petition.

Since there was some variance in the allegation in the writ petition and counter affidavit the court ordered a team three very distinguished doctors  to examine the said person thoroughly and submit a report on her physical and mental condition.

The conclusion in the report filed by the three doctors as quoted “ she has evidence of enact auditory, visual, somatic and motor primary neural pathways. However no definite evidence of awareness of auditory, visual, somatic and motor stimuli was observed during our examinations”.

The report had several technical terms which a non-medical man would find difficult to understand so the court requested to submit a supplementary report in which the meaning of these technical terms are explained.

The supplementary report stated that the petitioner was clearly not brain dead, she was also not clearly in coma,  she has all these features consistent with the diagnosis of permanent vegetative state were present during the medical examination. Her behavior doesn’t suggest a minimally conscious state were observed during the examination.


The issue in this as quoted by the Apex court are as follows-

  • A person who is in permanent vegetative state (PVS),  should withholding or withdrawal of life sustaining therapies (many authorities would include placement of an artificial feeding tube as a life sustaining intervention) be it permissible or ‘not unlawful’ ?
  • If the patient has previously expressed such a wish not to have life-sustaining treatments in case of futile care or a PVS, should his/her wishes be respected when the situation arises ?
  • In case a person has not previously expressed such a wish, if his family or next of kin makes a request to withhold or withdrawal futile life-sustaining treatments, should their wishes be respected ?
  • The petitioner has been abandoned by her family and is being looked after for the last 37 years by the staff of KEM Hospital. Who should take decision on her behalf ?

Contention of Parties-


  • The learned counsel relied on some previous judgements to solidify there point.
  • The learned counsel submitted that the petitioner i.e. Ms. Pinky Virani is the next friend of Aruna and she has written a book on her life called ‘Aruna’s Story’ and has been following her case from 1980 and has done whatever possible and within her means to help her.
  • The counsel also invited the attention of court on the report of Law Commission of India 2006 on ‘ Medical Treatment to Terminally Ill Patients.


  • The learned counsel of respondents invited the attention of court to relevant cases.
  • As in matter of Law Commission of India report on euthanasia it was not accepted by the Government of India.
  • He further submits that Indian society is an emotional and care oriented, we do not send our parents to old age homes, as it happens in the West. He stated that there was a great danger in permitting euthanasia that the relatives of a person make conspire with doctors and get him killed to inherit his property. He further submitted that tomorrow there may be a cure to a medical state perceived as incurable today.
  • The learned counsel submitted that the petitioner has no locus standi in matter it is only the hospital staff which could have filed such a writ petition.

The Court appointed Amicus Curiae was in favor of  passive euthanasia provided the decision to discontinue life support was taken by responsible medical practitioner.


The Division Bench of Supreme Court of India consisting of  Justice Markandey Katju & Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra delivered a landmark judgement in regards with the euthanasia while rejecting the petition stating that the court express there appreciation to Ms.Pinki Virani for filing this petition for a cause she bona fide regarded as correct and ethical. The grounds that Aruna Shanbaug is in the pvs not brain dead and the decision to end her life would lie with the hospital staff being taking care of her since last 37 year also the judgement directed the instructions on taking such cases in future in regards with the euthanasia.

Rule of Law-

There is no law in particular when it comes to euthanasia which is ending the life intentionally and legally but in this case the court was approached to address the issue to end the life to provide relief from pain and agony since there is no provision in law about it the court referred to the judgement of previous such case in India as well in the world regarding euthanasia the legality of fundamental rights given by the Constitution of India were in question along with the power of the judiciary to decide such matter.


The court discussed about the fact, laws and everything that concerns about euthanasia since it’s a sensitive issue the court addressed laws and cases around the world with regards to this issue and delivered a landmark judgement until a legislation is passed the court has given direction on how to address this issue in future. The bench has also to look out for the society as to pass a judgement which cannot be misinterpreted or misused.


To conclude this case the bench discussed all the aspects of euthanasia , active/passive euthanasia, voluntary and where the person is not able to decide then who can decide on his/her behalf the circumstances in which the court can be approached and who can approach the court to sum it up the court has done an phenomenal job by delivering such judgement which is nothing short of a legislation.

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