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Opinion | Sexuality

Assaulted Woman to Be Kept Alive, Rules India Court

Until the story of Aruna Shanbaug, I had never heard the phrase "passive euthanasia," let alone grappled with whether or not I participated in it nearly 20 years ago.

On March 7, India's Supreme Court decided a landmark case that will allow life support to be legally removed from some terminally ill patients. The ruling involved the case of a woman who has been in a vegetative state since she was sexually assaulted and suffered brain damage 37 years ago. Her parents are dead, and a friend wanted hospital staff to stop "force-feeding" her mashed-up food. While the court ruled that Aruna Shanbaug be kept on life support, it distinguished between "active euthanasia" and "passive euthanasia," allowing the latter for certain terminally ill patients.

Until I read these reports, I had never heard the phrase "passive euthanasia," let alone grappled with whether or not I participated in some such cruelty.

It was nearly 20 years ago. An elderly relative had been badly deteriorating in a residential care facility for a few years when she was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. She was initially conscious, but quickly lapsed into a coma. Tests showed she had minimal brain function. The doctor said she wouldn't recover. Although there was a medical directive in place that prohibited heroic measures, a feeding tube was inserted.

After a week or so, we were told the feeding tube had been removed because it had a kink in it. Everyone knew that if she went back to the nursing home with the tube, it would take a court order to remove it again. It was left to her family to decide what to do. The feeding tube was not reinserted. She was given intravenous ...

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