NEW DELHI - An Indian nurse died yesterday, after 42 years in a coma following a brutal rape, in a case that led the country to ease some restrictions on euthanasia.
Aruna Shanbaug suffered brain damage and had been in a vegetative state in a Mumbai hospital since being strangled with a dog chain and sexually assaulted by a hospital worker in 1973.
The 66-year-old Shanbaug suffered a bout of pneumonia in recent days and had been on a ventilator, officials at King Edward Hospital in Mumbai told the Press Trust of India news agency.
Ms Shanbaug was attacked by a ward boy in the basement of the hospital where she was discovered 11 hours later, blind and suffering from a severe brain stem injury.
Left bedridden, she spent more than four decades being cared for by a team of doctors and nurses at the hospital.
Her attacker was freed after a seven-year jail sentence.
"Her actual death happened in 1973 (the year of the attack). Now what has happened is her legal death," her friend and journalist Pinki Virani told Zee News TV channel.
Ms Shanbaug's plight became a focal point of debate on euthanasia in India, after Ms Virani appealed to India's top court in 1999 to allow her friend to die with dignity. Indian laws do not permit euthanasia or self-starvation to the point of death.
But in 2011, the Supreme Court decided that life support could be legally removed for some terminally ill patients, in a landmark ruling that allowed "passive euthanasia" for the first time.
The court said withdrawing life support could be allowed in exceptional circumstances, provided the request was from family and supervised by doctors and the courts.
However, the court rejected Ms Virani's request to stop Ms Shanbaug from being force-fed on the grounds that the journalist was not legally eligible to make the demand on her friend's behalf.