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 / Updated  / Source: Reuters

NEW DELHI — A 66-year-old Indian woman, who was sexually assaulted and left in a vegetative state for more than 40 years, died on Monday, in a case that sparked national debate over the legalization of euthanasia.

In November 1973, Aruna Shanbaug was attacked by a ward attendant at the King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital in Mumbai as the 26-year-old nurse was finishing her night-shift.

Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki sodomized and strangled her with a dog chain — cutting off the oxygen supply to her brain and leaving her in a coma.

"She (Shanbaug) passed away at 8.30 a.m. She had been diagnosed with pneumonia and had been on ventilator for the past few days," said Medical Superintendent Pravin Bangar at KEM hospital, where her colleagues had cared for Shanbaug for the past 42 years.

King Edward Memorial Hospital staff mourns before paying homage to the body of Aruna Shanbaug before the cremation ceremony in Mumbai, India, 18 May 2015. Aruna Shanbaug who was in a vegetative state for more than 40 years after being raped by a hospital cleaner, died on Monday, hospital authorities said.DIVYAKANT SOLANKI / EPA

The case came to national attention in 2009 when activist and author Pinki Virani, who had written a book about Shanbaug, appealed to India's top court for passive euthanasia.

Virani argued Shanbaug's "continued vegetative existence devoid of any human dignity" was not life at all and "putting mashed food in her mouth only amounts to violation of human dignity."

But KEM hospital's present and former staff opposed the motion.

The Supreme Court in 2011 rejected Virani's plea, saying what KEM hospital had done for Shanbaug was "marvelous" by feeding, washing and caring for her, day and night, year after year.

Tributes from politicians, celebrities and ordinary Indian citizens to Shanbaug and the staff at KEM hospital flooded social networking sites with her name trending on Twitter.

Walmiki served a seven-year jail term for assault and robbery — but was never convicted of sexual assault as sodomy was not considered rape at that time.

An undated picture shows Indian nurse Aruna Shambung posing for a portrait in Mumbai. Aruna Shambung, a nurse died on May 18, 2015, after 42 years in a coma following a brutal rape, in a case that led India to ease some restrictions on euthanasia. 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.HO / AFP - Getty Images

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— Reuters