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Don’t torture the dying: Indian Health Ministry’s draft law confuses between euthanasia and advance care planning

29 June 2016
  • Dr M R Rajagopal of Pallium India treating a patient for pain
    Dr M.R. Rajagopal attends a patient at home.

Although the Constitution of India guarantees life with dignity as a fundamental right, it does not seem to apply to incurable diseases or dying from old age, writes Dr M.R. Rajagopal, founder-chairman of Pallium India, for the Times of India.

He argues that in those circumstances, people should still have the right plan for their end of life care, including the right to refuse life-prolonging measures, and to choose their place of death. However, there is no choice given any longer.

According to Dr Rajagopal, the family takes over and makes the decision for the patient while he/she is still able to do so. In turn, the family loses control as hospital protocol takes over and – most often – transfers the patient to an intensive care unit

Dr Rajagopal notes that in the last days when one should be with the family, one is isolated at the hospital, covered with cables and surrounded by "screeching alarms and weird masked creatures." Even when everyone knows that the person is dying, a tube is inserted into every orifice in the body. The pain caused by invasive procedures is beyond the average person’s power of imagination.

When the fear overcomes the person panics and tries to pull out the tubes, the nurses bind the hands and feet. The right to life with dignity is violated in the cruellest way, adds Dr Rajagopal.

Being a doctor, Dr Rajagopal knows that intensive care can dramatically save lives but it can also represent the most horrendous infliction of suffering and violation of human dignity in terms of incurable illness. He expresses that it should be recognised that death is inevitable but the person should be able to die with as much dignity as possible.

He points out that the new law drafted by the government of India to ‘protect’ the terminally ill confuses euthanasia, which is wilful termination of life, with withdrawal of life support, which is only permitting natural death, and is part of advance care planning.

Dr Rajagopal further points out that the draft law asks the family members to apply to the state high court in order to withdraw the life support measures if the patient wishes for it. The high court takes a month’s time for its approval. Every moment of that one month is agony for the patient and financially tough for the family.

He concludes that this law threatens to violate people’s autonomy and dignity at the most vulnerable time of their lives and urges others to protest and prevent it from coming into force.

You can read the full article on  the Times of India website.
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