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AIIMS to ensure dignified death for non-cancer patients too

In a first, a core committee formed by the hospital will facilitate a dignified dying process for patients who are at their end of life

Updated: Sep 25, 2019, 11.42 AM IST
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AIIMS
(This story originally appeared in on Sep 24, 2019)
NEW DELHI: Of the 80 countries surveyed recently for quality of death, India ranked 67. The result didn’t come as a surprise though because the concept of end-of-life care (EOLC) that attempts to reduce the suffering of terminally ill patients barely exists in the country. In a first, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has decided to draft a policy to provide the same to its registered in-patients.

A core committee has been formed by the hospital to facilitate a dignified dying process for patients who are at their end of life. This includes non-cancer patients like those suffering from severe irreversible brain damage or those in a persistent vegetative state.

“Often, families of patients suffering from the end stage diseases request us to stop treatment. They don’t want to see them going away in pain and with multiple tubes inserted in the body. Our EOLC policy will attempt to address these issues,” Dr Randeep Guleria, the director of AIIMS, told TOI.

He said that several rounds of consultation with stakeholders like experts in palliative care and the lawyers have already been held for the purpose. Also, the pallative medicine division of the hospital is training nurses and doctors to identify terminal stage of illness where palliative care may be required. Care will be ensured at all levels – physical, emotional, social and spiritual.

AIIMS is one of the few medical institutions in the country to have a full-fledged department for palliative care. But till now, its focus has been on providing EOLC to cancer patients.

Dr Sushma Bhatnagar, professor and head of the department, said that they are expanding the services to other departments also.

In India, the doctors say, the physicians are reluctant to consider limitation of life support interventions when compared to the doctors a broad. Dr Bhatnagar said that a policy which is legally vetted to remove grey areas in the implementation of EOLC is needed. “Countries like the United Kingdom, which was ranked number one in the survey conducted by The Economist, has a clear policy for EOLC,” she said.

Stating that human beings have the right to die with dignity, the Supreme Court had last year allowed passive euthanasia. The top court also allowed an individual to draft a ‘living will’ specifying that they not be put on life support if they slip into an incurable coma in the future. In a living will, a person can make a statement in advance that their life should not be prolonged by putting them on a ventilator or an artificial support system.

Dhvani Mehta, a senior resident fellow at Vidhi – Centre for Legal Policy, said that following the Supreme Court order there has been a significant increase in the number of queries on how to implement a living will.

“I am helping AIIMS from the legal perspective to draft the EOLC policy which has its genesis in the Supreme Court order,” she added.

AIIMS graph

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