The theme of the Sixth National Bioethics Conference is: 'Healing and dying with dignity: Ethical issues in palliative care, end-of-life care and euthanasia'
Two closely related and neglected areas of concern are palliative care and end-of-life care. The extremely inequitable distribution, across the country of end-of-life care facilities leaves large numbers of patients and their families in tremendous distress. The need for palliation is essential, as non-communicable diseases and cancers become increasingly important. This is primarily due to the changing demographic, socioeconomic and work profiles of the population and its health status; changing living conditions and contexts; and the lack of availability of sufficient palliative care across the country, with certain exceptions, such as the areas served by Pallium India in Kerala.
The theme of euthanasia in NBC 6 is partly inspired by the debates around the story of Aruna Shanbaug, who died recently after spending nearly 42 years in a persistent vegetative state after she was sexual assaulted and strangulated while on nursing duty in a government hospital in Mumbai. There is some progress in setting up systems to address sexual assault at the workplaces. However, debates on euthanasia remained divided and inconclusive.
The sixth NBC will be an opportunity to discuss these three closely-related themes in healthcare ethics which deserve much attention and clarity in order to honour patients' right to healing and dying with dignity.
It is hoped that the sixth NBC will be helpful in furthering policy decisions on euthanasia, and in developing processes for legal and health systems reform in India, building on the work done so far.