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Citation(2011) 4 SCC 454
Date of Judgment7th March 2011
CourtSupreme Court of India
Case TypeCriminal Appeal No. 115 of 2009
Petitioner Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug 
RespondentUnion of India 
BenchJustice Markandey Katju, Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra
ReferredArticle 14, 21 & 32 Of The Constitution of India, Sections 306 & 309 Of the Indian Penal Code, 1860


Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug was a staff Nurse working in King Edward Memorial Hospital Parel, Mumbai, On the evening of 27 November 1973 she was attacked by a sweeper in the hospital who wrapped a dog chain around her neck and yanked her back with it. He tried to rape her but finding that she was menstruating, he sodomized her. To immobilize her during this act he twisted the chain around her neck. The next day on 28 November 1973 a cleaner found her lying on the floor with blood all over in an unconscious condition. It was found that due to strangulation by the dog chain the supply of oxygen to the brain stopped and the brain got damaged. It is alleged that 36 years have expired since the incident and now Aruna is about 60 years of age. She is featherweight, and her brittle bones could break if her hand or leg are awkwardly caught, even accidentally, under her lighter body. She is prone to bed sores. Her wrists are twisted inwards Her teeth had decayed causing her immense pain. She can only be given mashed food, on which she survives. It is alleged that Aruna is in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and virtually a dead person and has no state of awareness, and her brain is virtually dead. She can neither see, nor hear anything nor can she express herself or communicate, in any manner whatsoever. Mashed food is put in her mouth, she is not able to chew or taste any food. She is not even aware that food has been put in her mouth. She is not able to swallow any liquid food, which shows that the food goes down on its own and not because of any effort on her part. The process of digestion goes on in this way as the mashed food passes through her system. However, Aruna is virtually a skeleton. Her excreta and the urine is discharged on the bed itself. Once in a while she is cleaned up but in a short while again she goes back into the same sub-human condition. Judged by any parameter, Aruna cannot be said to be a living person and it is only on account of mashed food which is put into her mouth that there is a facade of life which is totally devoid of any human element. It is alleged that there is not the slightest possibility of any improvement in her condition and her body lies on the bed in the KEM Hospital, Mumbai like a dead animal, and this has been the position for the last 36 years. The prayer of the petitioner Aruna through one Pinki Virani is that the respondents be directed to stop feeding Aruna and let her die peacefully.


  1. Granting approval for withdrawal of life support of a person who is in a persistent vegeta state (PVS) and is virtually a dead person having no state of awareness, and whose brain is virtually dead.
  2. Whether the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes the right to die?
  3. Is section 306 and 309 of IPC Constitutionally valid?


Arguments made  by  the Petitioner 

The petitioner requested the legalisation of euthanasia on behalf of Aruna in order to terminate her suffering by cutting off her medical care. Journalist-activist Pinki Virani made this request on behalf of the petitioner. She argued that because Aruna had been in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) for so long, she had no possibility of recovery and should be saved from the anguish and suffering she was currently suffering.

Arguments made by the Respondent

The respondent parties, KEM Hospital and Bombay Municipal Corporation, submitted a counter petition opposing euthanasia for Aruna Shanbaug in response to the petition filed by Pinki Virani. Aruna had a lengthy history of interaction with the KEM Hospital nurses. They had been caring for her well and were content to continue doing so for the rest of her days. They believed that permitting Aruna to be put to death would be a waste of their efforts. 


There is no statutory provision in our country as to the legal procedure for withdrawing life support to a person in PVS or who is otherwise incompetent to take a decision in this connection. The following law is laid down in this connection which will continue to be the law until Parliament makes a law on the subject.

A decision has to be taken to discontinue life support either by the parents or the spouse or other close relatives, or in the absence of any of them, such a decision can be taken even by a or a body of persons acting as a next friend. It can also be taken by the doctors attending, However, the decision should be taken bona fide in the best interest of the patient. 

Even if a decision is taken by the close relatives or doctors or next friend to withdraw life, such a decision requires approval from the High Court concerned.

 In the present case Aruna Shanbaug’s parents are dead and other close relatives are not interested in her ever since she had the unfortunate assault on her. As already noted above, it is the KEM hospital staff, who have been amazingly caring for her day and night for so many long years, who really are her next friends, and not Ms. Pinky Virani who has only visited her on a few occasions and written a book on her. Hence it is for the KEM hospital staff to take that decision. The KEM hospital staff has clearly expressed their wish that Aruna Shanbaug should be allowed to live. However, assuming that the KEM hospital staff at some future time changes its mind,  in such a situation the KEM hospital would have to apply to the Bombay High Court for approval of the decision to withdraw life support. This is even more necessary in our country as the possibility of mischief being done by relatives or others for inheriting the property of the patient cannot be ruled out.

It is the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution which can grant approval for withdrawal of life support to such an incompetent person. When such an application is filed, the Chief Justice of the High Court should forthwith constitute a Bench of at least two Judges who should decide to grant approval or not. Before doing so the Bench should seek the opinion of a committee of three reputed doctors to be nominated by the Bench after consulting such medical authorities/medical practitioners as it may deem fit. The committee of three doctors nominated  by the Bench should carefully examine the patient and also consult the record of the patient as well as take the views of the hospital staff and submit its report to the High Court Bench. Simultaneously with appointing the committee of doctors, the High Court Bench shall also issue notice to the State and close relatives e.g. parents, spouse, brothers/sisters etc. of the patient, and  in their absence his/her next friend, and supply a copy of the report of the doctor’s committee to them as soon as it is available. After hearing them, the High Court bench should give its verdict.

The above procedure should be followed all over India until Parliament makes legislation on this subject. The High Court should give its decision speedily at the earliest, since delay in the matter may result in causing great mental agony to the relatives and persons close to the patient




 Constitution of India 1950, art 32

 Constitution of India 1950, art 21

Constitution of India 1950, art 14

 Indian Penal Code 1860, s 306

Indian Penal Code 1860, s 309

This analysis is written by Aditi Shakya of Institute of Law, Jiwaji University Gwalior, 7th Semester Intern at Legal Vidhiya.


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