Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug & Ors v. Union Of India

By – SHAURYA SINGH KARASI (Chandigarh University)


The landmark case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs. Union Of India & Ors, decided on March 7, 2011, marked a significant turning point in the legal discourse surrounding euthanasia. It centered on the plight of Aruna Shanbaug, who tragically fell victim to a brutal assault in 1973 and has since remained in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) for 37 years, igniting a profound ethical and legal debate about her right to a dignified death. The court meticulously examined Aruna’s medical condition, acknowledging her irreversible brain damage caused by a hypoxic-ischemic injury, while also recognizing her minimal signs of consciousness and responsiveness. Furthermore, the judgment explored the global legal landscape regarding euthanasia, drawing upon examples from countries such as the United States, France, and Montana, where laws regarding physician-assisted death vary. Ultimately, the court affirmed the legality of passive euthanasia under specific circumstances, acknowledging the right of individuals or their designated caregivers to make decisions in the best interest of the patient’s well-being. The court also commended the dedicated care provided by the staff at KEM Hospital to Aruna over the years, underscoring the importance of compassionate healthcare for individuals in vulnerable states. In its decision, the court emphasized the sanctity of life while also affirming the principles of human dignity and autonomy in end-of-life care.

KEYWORDS – :  Physician-assisted suicide, Euthanasia, Passive euthanasia, Mercy killing, Permanent vegetative state.


i) Judgment Clause TitleAruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs. Union Of India & Ors
ii) Case NumberWrit Petition (Criminal) No. 115 of 2009
Iii) Judgment Date March 7, 2011
iv) CourtSupreme Court
v) Quorum2 Judges
vi) Author Justice Markandey Katju.
vii) Citation(2011) 4 SCC 454
viii)Legal Provisions Involved1.  Article 21 of the Indian Constitution 2.  Article 32 of the Indian Constitution 3.  Article 226 of the Indian Constitution


Supreme Court of India inAruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India & Ors took up the examination of moral and legal issues related to the right to death and euthanasia on 7 March 2011. At the center of this problem is Aruna Shanbaug, who suffered a stroke in 1973 and remained in a vegetative state for more than thirty years. Because of its personal nature, this case raises further questions about end-of-life care, patient management, and the ethics of caregivers.

The crux of the case is a medical evaluation by a team of reputable doctors to assess Aruna’s physical and mental health. The findings confirmed that he was in a long-term coma and met the criteria for a stable vegetative state (PVS). Although Aruna is biological, he is not aware of himself and his environment and has no reactions or responses to stimuli.The decision also reflects the determination of the medical team at KEM Hospital in Mumbai, who worked tirelessly for 10 years to care for Aruna. almost forty years. Their unwavering commitment to their well-being despite the challenges reflects the complexity of the case and ethical considerations.

The decision  examines international practice and law regarding euthanasia and assisted suicide, providing a comprehensive overview of various practices around the world. Finally, the court’s decision not only resolves specific allegations against Arunashanbaug, but also establishes important principles that guide end of life decisions and protect the rights of patients in similar situations. context. This document is important in Indian law as it influences debates on euthanasia, patient autonomy and the right to die with dignity.


1. Aruna Shanbaug, a dedicated nurse at KEM Hospital in Mumbai, suffered unexpected beatings and injuries at the hands of her colleagues, resulting in brain damage and physical disability. 2. Aruna, who begins to fall into a coma after the attack, later transforms into a normal body, having not yet shown any consciousness, interaction or purposeful movement. This is surprising to those who know his heart.
3. A team of compassionate doctors appointed by the Supreme Court conducted the medical examination of Aruna Shanbaug to better understand her condition. Their analysis showed that the plant permanently experiences the features of its state, the fine art of its struggle, without awareness of itself or its environment.

4. Although she survived, Aruna’s physical health declined over time; Her reliance on bottle feeding for health and the stress of stomach and bladder incontinence remind people that her condition once caused a huge impact on her life.

5. This case sparked a huge debate about the juxtaposition of legal and ethical aspects of euthanasia, patient freedom, and the fundamental right to die with dignity. The petitioner’s request to discontinue feeding Aruna is based on the belief that Aruna’s prolonged crop failure constitutes a serious violation of her dignity and freedom.

6. In considering ethical issues, the Court carefully considers the principles of medical ethics, respect for the sanctity of the patient’s liberty, and the need for compassion in the face of the complexities inherent in hospital decision-making. . Such a desire.

7. The judgment examines the finer laws surrounding euthanasia in India and abroad, finding that euthanasia remains illegal in India and many other countries around the world, unless there are special circumstances prescribed by law. Consider the evolution of social ethics.

8. Additionally, the Court discussed the concept of brain death and its serious implications for end-of-life care and organ donation, with reference to the Human Organ Transplantation Act 1994; This means it is not possible for the dead brain to perform surgery. . Each nerve stalk demonstrates the importance of morality, dealing with matters of life and death.


  1. This case delves into the profound ethical, medical, and legal complexities surrounding euthanasia, specifically exploring the differences between active euthanasia, where lethal substances are intentionally administered to end a person’s life, and passive euthanasia, which involves withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatments.
  1.  At the heart of the legal discourse lies the fundamental question of an individual’s right to die with dignity, particularly when confronted with irreversible medical conditions like a persistent vegetative state (PVS). The court meticulously examines the extent to which this right is safeguarded under constitutional principles, including the cherished rights to life and personal liberty.
  1.  In light of the patient’s incapacitated state, the case prompts reflection on who should hold authority in making decisions concerning her medical care. The court delves into the role of surrogate decision-makers and the legal frameworks governing such decisions, particularly in cases where the patient’s preferences are not explicitly known.
  1. Throughout its deliberations, the judgment carefully considers a myriad of medical ethics guidelines, international legal precedents, and legislative frameworks pertaining to euthanasia and end-of-life care. It scrutinizes how these standards intersect with domestic laws and constitutional provisions in India.
  1.  A nuanced examination of constitutional rights, notably Article 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty), unfolds within the context of end-of-life care and the withdrawal of life support. The court meticulously weighs the delicate balance between preserving life and honoring individual autonomy and dignity.
  1. Central to the case are interpretations of medical terms such as brain death and persistent vegetative state. Drawing upon medical evidence and expert opinions, the court endeavors to establish clear criteria for diagnosing these conditions and determining appropriate medical interventions.
  2. The judgment casts a discerning eye on the diverse array of laws and practices concerning euthanasia and end-of-life care observed in other jurisdictions, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and various European nations. It ponders the far-reaching implications of international practices in shaping legal frameworks and ethical considerations within the Indian context.


1. The petitioner’s legal counsels contended that Article 21 of the constitution of India inherently encompasses the right to die with dignity, at once hard the translation set forth inside the Gian Kaur vs. State of Punjab case. In Gian Kaur, it was established that the right to life does now not expand to include the right to die, a viewpoint vehemently contested with the aid of the petitioner in this case.

2. notwithstanding acknowledging the procedural requirements of the court, the petitioner’s representatives underscored the paramount importance of addressing the center issue of the right to die with dignity, particularly in the poignant situation of people enduring a permanent vegetative state. Their emphasis on this fundamental element displays a heartfelt plea for recognition and redressal of what they perceive as a profound ethical imperative.

3. The petitioner sensitively highlighted the tragic trajectory leading to Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug’s plight, emphasizing the brutality of the attack and strangulation she persisted inside the hospital’s confines in 1973. This narrative, probably intended to awaken empathy, served to underscore the gravity and injustice of her quandary.

4. Arguments likely revolved round Aruna Shanbaug’s dwindled high-quality of lifestyles and the absence of meaningful existence because of her incapacitating condition. The petitioner likely contended that artificially prolonging her existence simply perpetuates her struggling without imparting any tangible prospect of development, compelling the court docket to take into account the ethical implications of such prolongation.

five. The petitioner in all likelihood marshaled medical evidence and professional evaluations declaring that Aruna Shanbaug’s condition satisfies the criteria warranting consideration for passive euthanasia. important to this argument will be the irrevocable nature of her country and the conspicuous absence of attention, compelling the court docket to confront the stark realities of her enduring ordeal.

6. In maintaining the fundamental principle of autonomy and self-determination, the petitioner in all likelihood endorsed for people’ inherent proper to dictate choices regarding their personal lives, consisting of the prerogative to relieve their struggling thru passive euthanasia. This plea for autonomy underscores the vital of respecting man or woman organisation and dignity in topics of profound non-public importance.

7. Moreover, the petitioner might also have drawn upon international legal precedents and practices concerning euthanasia and the right to die with dignity, searching for to contextualize their argument within a broader worldwide framework. through invoking evolving worldwide standards, the petitioner aimed to persuade the court to adopt a forward-thinking approach aligned with present day notions of human rights and dignity.


  1. The counsels representing the Respondents presented compelling arguments against the legalization of euthanasia, grounding their stance in the compassionate and familial fabric of Indian society. They voiced apprehensions regarding the potential for abuse, cautioning against scenarios where familial interests might collude with medical professionals to expedite the end of a patient’s life, perhaps for inheritances. Additionally, they highlighted the optimistic prospect of future medical breakthroughs that could potentially cure conditions deemed incurable today, urging caution in making irreversible decisions.
  1.  The Respondents emphasized the absence of any expressed wishes or directives from Aruna Shanbaug regarding life-sustaining treatments for her condition. They underscored the necessity for decisions regarding her care to be entrusted to a surrogate, given the profound uncertainty surrounding her preferences.
  1.  On the pivotal matter of determining the best course of action for a patient in a persistent vegetative state, the Respondents stressed the importance of entrusting such weighty decisions to a responsible and competent body of medical professionals, who possess the requisite expertise to navigate complex medical and ethical considerations.
  1.  The withdrawal of life support was characterized as an omission rather than an affirmative action to terminate life, aligning with advancements in medical technology that have shifted the paradigm of death away from traditional markers like breathing and heartbeat, toward criteria involving the functionality of the brain stem.
  1.   The Respondents argued for the primacy of expert medical opinion in determining the cessation of life-sustaining treatments, highlighting the potential for unforeseen medical advancements that could potentially revive patients in the near future, underscoring the need for cautious deliberation.
  1.  An objection was raised against Ms. Pinky Virani’s assertion of being the next friend of Aruna Shanbaug, contending that the true next friend should be considered as the dedicated staff of KEM Hospital, given their intimate involvement in her care and well-being over the years.
  1. The principle of parens patriae jurisdiction was invoked, emphasizing the sovereign’s duty, in the interest of the public, to safeguard individuals under disability who lack a natural guardian. This underscored the State’s obligation to oversee and protect vulnerable individuals from exploitation or harm.
  1. The Respondents proposed a procedural framework involving the establishment of a committee comprising medical experts, coupled with notifications to the State and close relatives of the patient. They suggested that a verdict be rendered by a High Court bench, pending legislative enactment by Parliament on this sensitive subject, reflecting a cautious approach to the evolving legal and ethical landscape surrounding euthanasia.


Article 21 of the Indian Constitution stands as a cornerstone, safeguarding the cherished rights to life and personal liberty. While the judiciary has expansively interpreted this provision to encompass diverse facets of human dignity and quality of life, pivotal judicial precedents, such as Gian Kaur vs. State of Punjab, 1996(2) SCC 648, have clarified that the right to life does not explicitly encompass the right to die. This constitutional backdrop shapes the legal terrain concerning euthanasia and end-of-life decisions, delineating the boundaries within which such matters are evaluated.

2. Article 32 of the Indian Constitution confers upon individuals the invaluable right to Constitutional Remedies, empowering them to directly seek redressal from the esteemed Supreme Court of India for the enforcement of their fundamental rights. However, unlike Article 226, which pertains to the jurisdiction of High Courts, Article 32 necessitates that a petitioner substantiate a violation of fundamental rights. This constitutional provision significantly influences the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, particularly in cases pertaining to euthanasia and the right to a dignified death.

3. The judgment draws upon legal principles and precedents from diverse jurisdictions, notably the United States and England, to offer comparative insights into euthanasia laws and practices surrounding end-of-life care. These cross-jurisdictional references enrich the discourse by shedding light on the varied legal frameworks and approaches embraced by other nations grappling with analogous issues.

4. Although not explicitly delineated in the provided excerpt, considerations of medical ethics and professional standards invariably intersect with legal deliberations concerning euthanasia. The court may rely upon expert medical opinions and ethical guidelines to navigate the intricate medical dimensions of the case, discerning the appropriateness of euthanasia or end-of-life care decisions in consonance with prevailing professional norms.

5. Surrogate decision-making assumes paramount significance in cases where incapacitated patients necessitate medical determinations on their behalf. The excerpt intimates discussions concerning the relevance of surrogate perspectives, particularly in instances where the patient’s own wishes cannot be ascertained. Legal principles and standards guide these deliberations, ensuring that decisions are made in the best interests of the patient while respecting their autonomy and dignity.


Ratio Decidendi:

1. The court asserts that decisions concerning the treatment of Aruna Shanbaug, who resides in a permanent vegetative state, should be entrusted to a surrogate due to her inability to express her own preferences. Recognizing the longstanding care provided by the staff of KEM Hospital, the court designates them as appropriate surrogates.

2. Reaffirming the illegality of active euthanasia in India, the court deems it a criminal offense under the Indian Penal Code. It acknowledges the divergence in euthanasia laws worldwide, citing examples such as Belgium, where it is permissible under stringent conditions.

3. Acknowledging the evolving understanding of death, the court expands its definition beyond mere cardiopulmonary function to encompass brain function. It discusses the legal principle of parens patriae, wherein the state assumes the role of protector for individuals with disabilities.

Obiter Dicta:

1. The judge expresses apprehension regarding societal readiness to embrace euthanasia or mercy killing, citing concerns over potential misuse. The judge advocates for a compassionate society that prioritizes the welfare of its vulnerable members.

2. The judge advocates for the repeal of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes attempted suicide. Instead, the judge suggests a paradigm shift toward offering assistance and support to individuals struggling with suicidal tendencies.

3. Emphasizing the state’s duty to safeguard individuals with disabilities, the court underscores the evolution of parens patriae jurisdiction from feudal times to a contemporary state responsibility. This highlights the state’s obligation to protect vulnerable individuals and uphold their rights in modern society.


In the case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs. Union Of India & Ors on March 7, 2011, the court delves deeply into the intricate web of legal, medical, and ethical questions surrounding euthanasia and the right to life. It carefully scrutinizes Aruna Shanbaug’s medical condition, shedding light on the complexities involved in assessing her level of consciousness and awareness. The court notably points out the absence of specific legislation governing euthanasia in India, emphasizing the urgent need for a clear legal framework to guide end-of-life care decisions. Furthermore, the judgment elucidates fundamental principles such as patient autonomy, beneficence, and surrogate decision-making, underlining the importance of honoring the wishes of individuals who are unable to make decisions for themselves.

It also touches upon the doctrine of Parens Patriae, highlighting the state’s responsibility in safeguarding the interests of those who are unable to fend for themselves. Recognizing the invaluable role played by the compassionate staff of KEM Hospital in Aruna Shanbaug’s life, the court underscores the profound significance of human dignity and compassion in the realm of medical decision-making. By doing so, it emphasizes the importance of upholding the dignity and welfare of patients in vulnerable situations. In essence, the judgment offers profound insights into the complex moral and legal considerations surrounding end-of-life care, serving as a guiding light for future cases grappling with similar issues, both within India and on a global scale.


a. Important Cases Referred

  1. Vikram Deo Singh Tomar vs. State of Bihar, 1988 (Supp) SCC 734
  2. P. Rathinam vs. Union of India and another (1994) 3 SCC 394
  3. Charan Lal Sahu vs. Union of India (1990) 1 SCC 613

b. Important Statutes Referred

  1. Indian Penal Code (IPC): Referred to regarding the legality of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
  2. Article 21 of the Constitution: Discussed in the context of the right to life with human dignity.
  3. Section 309 IPC: Dealing with the attempt to commit suicide.
  4. Law Commission of India, 2006: Referred to in the context of ‘Medical Treatment to Terminally Ill Patients.’

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