1.The will to die- on ‘living wills’ (The Hindu)

2.Banning the bomb (The Hindu)

3.If safety is not to be derailed (The Indian Express)

1.The will to die- on ‘living wills’ (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of law to permit “passive euthanasia”. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that it is vetting a draft law to permit “passive euthanasia” – The Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, but that it is against letting people make “Living Wills”, by which they can direct that they not be put on life support in case of terminal illness. Should the law allow ‘living wills’?

Living will

  • Living will is a written document that allows a patient to give explicit instructions in advance about the medical treatment to be administered when he or she is terminally ill or no longer able to express informed consent.
  • The Supreme Court has indicated it might recognise the execution of ‘living will’ in cases of passive euthanasia, as right to die peacefully is part of fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • The Supreme Court, however, said there should be adequate safeguards and implementation of living will would be subject to medical board’s certifying that the patient’s comatose state is irreversible.
  • The court will have to resolve the question whether the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, which according to an earlier verdict does not include the right to die, is being voluntarily waived by a person giving such an advance directive. A living will, at the same time, may relieve the close family members and caregivers of a terminally ill patient of the moral burden of making a life-ending decision.
  • Under U.S. jurisdiction patient autonomy is paramount, and many States have laws allowing advance directives, even the nomination of a ‘health care proxy’ who can decide on behalf of the patient. Should India follow suit?
  • While reserving its verdict, the court has indicated that it may lay down comprehensive guidelines on operationalising the idea of living wills. The government has opposed the concept of an advance directive, arguing that it would be against public policy and the right to life. The government is rightly concerned that the idea may be misused and result in the neglect of the elderly.
  • In Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs. Union of India & Ors (2011) the Supreme Court distinguished between “active” and “passive” euthanasia: “Active euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill a person, e.g. a lethal injection. Passive euthanasia entails withholding of medical treatment for continuance of life, e.g. withholding of antibiotics where without giving it a patient is likely to die.”
  • In the landmark verdict in 2011, ruled out any support for active euthanasia, but laid down a broad legal framework for passive euthanasia, or the withdrawal of life support subject to safeguards and a fair procedure.
  • In the present case, the court may have to draw up stringent safeguards for certifying living wills, preferably by a judicial officer, and lay down the exact stage at which the advance directive becomes applicable. The court’s observation that it would kick in only after a medical board rules that a person’s condition is incurable ought to be sufficient reassurance for those concerned about its possible misuse. Living wills should come with robust safeguards.

Question– The Supreme Court has indicated it might recognise the execution of ‘living will’ in cases of passive euthanasia, as right to die peacefully is part of fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. Critically analyse.

 

2.Banning the bomb (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of the urgent need to outlaw nuclear weapons. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize does not go to a politician or political leader. In fact, it does not single out any individual. Rather, it goes to a campaign, the International Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), it goes to a broad base of civil society organizations working in coalition to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.
  • The Nobel Peace Prize conferred on the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is equally recognition for the 122 countries that backed the 2017 UN treaty to ban the bomb. The fact that it has taken over seventy years to codify the UN General Assembly’s 1946 goal to eliminate atomic weapons from national armaments is a measure of the significance of this year’s prize.

About the ICAN

  • The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a coalition of non-government organizations in one hundred countries advocating for a strong and effective nuclear weapon ban treaty.

The nuclear debate

  • The terms of the anti-nuclear debate encompass larger issues of environmental destruction, in conjunction with the catastrophic humanitarian consequences. ICAN’s emphasis on this latter dimension.
  • The aspect was also underscored by the Nobel committee in Norway, which marks a departure of sorts in the nuclear discourse. We can draw a comparison with the preoccupations of the peace movement during the years of the Cold War. The earlier emphasis was principally on the grave danger from serious miscalculations, stemming from mutual threat perceptions between the U.S. and the USSR. The committee has lauded ICAN’s endeavours to fill the legal gap through its leadership on the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
  • The cluster munitions, land mines and chemical and biological weapons having been banned, nuclear weapons remained the last category of weapons of mass destruction that had not been outlawed.  ICAN’s emphasis on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear destruction have galvanised global support for the new treaty.
  • The long-term health implications for local populations from underground nuclear detonations have also been a growing concern.

Way ahead

  • The Italian parliament had passed a resolution to explore accession to the UN agreement without contravening its obligations to NATO. A similar step by the Dutch legislature had authorised the government to participate in the treaty deliberations. These developments may not culminate in immediate ratification. But they raise the prospect that governments will be forced to heed public sentiment sooner than later.

QuestionICAN’s Nobel Peace Prize highlights that there is urgent need to outlaw nuclear weapons. Analyse.

3.If safety is not to be derailed (The Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of needs to institute measures to enhance accountability for Indian railways. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Hundreds of trains hurtle across, carrying millions of passengers. The “braking distance” is no more than about two-thirds of a kilometre (against only about 200 ft on the highways). The traffic load on the Indian Railways is ever increasing and the saturation level on its important routes is unduly high, leaving little cushion for maintenance.
  • Derailments on the tracks of Indian Railways have always been a big technical and management challenge. In recent years, there has been a spate of “derailments”.

Assessment

  • The derailment of Uttaranchal Express at Khatauli case- in the absence of a permitted block by the traffic department, the track repairing staff took the unacceptable risk of going ahead with the track repair instead of putting a restriction on the movement of trains in the interest of safety of passengers. The responsibility was rightly fixed on the civil engineering department staff and officials.
  • The Indian tracks are under greater pressure, the permissible loading capacity of each wagon based on wagon axle loads. Large projects to relieve the pressure, like the construction of dedicated freight corridors, will take time. There is need to assess on which direction should safety measures head.
  • The government set up the Debroy Committee in 2014, whose primary terms of reference appeared to be to suggest measures to reduce the alleged phenomenon in the Indian Railway management system of “thinking in silos”.
  • In its report of 2015, wholesale structural changes were suggested, introducing what may be called “management generalism”. If accepted, this dilution of specialism or “professionalism” would lead to the erosion of accountability and would be disastrous for railway management, particularly for railway safety.
  • The Debroy Committee Report on Railways (2015) recommends that departmentalism in railways must be reduced through merger of Group ‘A’ Services either by (a) merger of all engineering services and civil services of the Indian Railways into one unified service, or (b) the merger of all engineering Group ‘A’ Services into one unified service and all civil Group ‘A’ Services into another unified service and giving up the Ministry of Railways cum Railway Board system (in which policy and secretarial powers are with the chairman and board members who are not “generalists” but “professionals” and replacing it by a conventional Ministry of Railways (and later by a “Ministry of Transport”) which will be part of the current “central staffing scheme” manned by “generalists” as in the case of other ministries. The recommendations, if accepted, will remove “professionalism” from the top management level of the Indian Railways.
  • The present “professional oriented” system for the Indian Railways was adopted from the very outset because of the size of its operations and its unique role in the economy of the country. Sometime. But the question is whether these have been because of the system or despite it.
  • The so-called “anti-departmentalism” move like the merger of Group ‘A’ Services and de-professionalization of the Ministry of Railways would sound a death knell to the extremely crucial safety factor in the Indian Railways.
  • The answer to departmentalism does not lie in merger of services and de-professionalization of the Ministry of Railways. Departments must not be gagged or demolished. They must be allowed to flourish and have their say for they may be giving expression to a genuinely valid factor, which may clash with equally valid points of view of other departments.

Way ahead

  • There is need make efforts towards improving the machinery for arriving at a Balance of Advantage Position including the use of new techniques for assessing aptitudes, capabilities etc. Indian Railways needs to institute measures to enhance accountability.

Question– With rising spates of “derailments”, discuss the Debroy committee recommendations and explain how ‘anti-departmentalism’ move may not be the best way forward.