February 23, 2024

Does the Indian Surpreme Court need better bioethics advice?

Hi there,

Bioethical developments in India are not widely reported
elsewhere. But the case of Aruna Shanbaug, which was decided by India’s Supreme
Court this week, could have far-reaching consequences. Ms Shanbaug has been in
a permanent vegetative state for nearly 40 years. In 1973 she was a nurse on
duty at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai when she was savagely sexually
assaulted by a wardsman. Ever since the hospital staff has taken care of her
magnificently. The Court praised them as an example for all of India.

The justices declared that Ms Shanbaug should be allowed to
live because she had such loyal friends, rejecting a request from an activist
who felt that her life lacked human dignity. However, it set down principles
which were poorly informed and badly phrased. It failed to distinguish between “passive
euthanasia” and withdrawal of burdensome treatment and it appears to assume that
ordinary nutrition and hydration is life support.

I wish that the learned jurists had sought advice from some
competent bioethicists before laying down the law. See the story below or check out the video on the website

Michael Cook