The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Health and law review right to die

For the first time in the city, doctors, lawyers and representatives of voluntary organisations took part in a programme to discuss euthanasia.

Despite the fact that euthanasia is banned in India, doctors, including Swaraj Banerjee, and criminal lawyer Milan Mukherjee addressed the issue during a discussion on Tuesday at Belle-Vue Clinic, on whether one had the right to allow a terminally-ill patient to die peacefully.

“The law does not permit weaning away a patient from the ventilator,” pointed out Mukherjee. Other doctors, however, argued that the wishes of a terminally-ill patient must also be respected. Some of the patients, present at the discussion, also supported euthanasia

Sunil Bhattacharjee, secretary of the Calcutta Society for the Right to Die with Dignity, advocating the legalisation of euthanasia in India, explained that hundreds in the country die a painful death every year from terminal diseases.

“I think euthanasia should be legalised. We need your support in building up a momentum in the city,” said Bhattacharjee. He added that the Society would hold one of the biggest conventions on euthanasia in the city shortly.

The doctors also discussed in detail the medico-legal issues and the unity of the medical fraternity to overcome lapses. “In this hour, when doctors are being subjected to all kinds of public scrutiny, they should be extra-cautious in their work,” said P. Tandon of Belle-Vue.

Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee (Retd) spoke on the poor state of healthcare in government hospitals. He explained the difference between “error of judgment” and “deliberate negligence” on part of the medical practitioners, which often creates confusion. Citing examples of gross negligence on the part of doctors, resulting in deaths and physical deformity, Justice Banerjee explained how doctors often forgot their duties. “This is the time for all doctors to rectify their mistakes and eliminate the chance of wrong diagnosis,” Justice Banerjee said.

Mukherjee added that unlike lawyers, who hold the right to appeal to a higher court even after committing a mistake, doctors get no second chance.

Discussing issues like emergency services in private hospitals — currently embroiled in a controversy — Justice Banerjee said that all hospitals have to cater to emergency services, without bothering about the fees or the financial status of the patient.

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