By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Aruna, a nurse, experienced a serious cognitive disability when she was strangled with a chain and raped in 1973. She has been living in what has been described as an unresponsive state for 38 years.
What is significant is that Shanbaug is not dying. She is a human person who is in an incredibly vulnerable condition. She is not requiring medical treatment, but rather she continues to live as long as she is fed. This is similar to the case of Terri Schiavo.
There are a few serious points in these cases.
To dehydrate Shanbaug to death is euthanasia.
Shanbaug is not otherwise dying and the action and intention in removing Shanbaug's feeding tube is to cause her death by dehydration. She would die of dehydration and not natural causes. To provide hydration and nutrition to a person with a cognitive disability, who cannot receive it in any other manner, should be defined as normal care. It is not excessive, extraordinary, or burdensome and it is able to be done, with minimal training, by anyone.
This is not a case of letting Shanbaug die. If she were dying of a medical condition and experiencing end of life symptoms that indicated that continuing her feeding would provide no further benefit, then discontinuing feeding is not the cause of the death, but rather the acceptance of the limits of life.
When society decides that killing people by dehydration, which should be called euthanasia by dehydration, is acceptable, then society will have agreed that the most vulnerable in our society have lost their right to protection and are able to killed by others. There are many people in this condition already and there are many more people in similar conditions who would soon be deemed to be "better off dead."
It is very concerning that the courts are being petitioned to have Shanbaug dehydrated to death by a person who is not a family member or a friend from years before, but rather by Pinki Varani, a woman who wrote a book about Shanbaug.
The life of Schanbaug is being defended by the officials at the Mombai hospital, where she had worked 38 years before, and where she currently lives.
Ms Virani has stated that the court needs to consider the medical definition of death. If people with cognitive conditions are labelled as dead, then the meaning of life will be altered to a man-made definition. Who else will be defined as already dead?
Finally, what is the intention of Ms Virani. She wrote a book about Shanbaug and now she is petitioning the court to dehydrate her to death. Is this a case where she thinks she can make more money on the sequel?
A few years ago, the United Nations declaration on the rights of people with disabilities stated that people with disabilities had a right to be fed. Scanbaug has a right to be fed.
Society needs to stop considering who should live and who should die and instead society needs to focus on how to provide the best care possible for the living and how to ensure that all human beings are being treated with equality and dignity.
The case of Aruna Shanbaug is heart wrenching.