The Health Ministry has
done it again. Hardly has it decided to charge a fee from those
seeking treatment at State hospitals for alcohol related
diseases or injuries resulting from alcohol driven incidents now
comes the news that it is planning to similarly charge those
seeking medical treatment after attempting suicide.
Addressing a function in connection with the opening of a
dispensary in Borella the other day Health Minister Maithripala
Sirisena said he is planning to suggest a move whereby all those
who failed in their suicide bids and seek medical treatment
would have to pay for their trouble.
The Minister’s move to charge patients with supposedly
alcohol related ailments have already drawn flak from the
medical fraternity. The GMOA the other day issued a statement
pointing out that it is against their Hippocratic oath to deny
patients seeking treatment whatever the cause of their ailment.
They also claimed that the matter would degenerate into an
exercise in hair splitting when it came to identifying whether
or not such ailments sprung from alcohol related causes or
otherwise. There is also the issue of fundamental rights, they
Besides as a reader pointed out the other day the Treasury
depends on excise duties for the bulk of its revenue going on to
question the ethics of the whole issue. Isn’t this also not case
of double taxation? It also reflects the pithy Sinhala saying
Gahen wetunu minihata gona enna wage (The man who fell from the
tree being goaded by the bull) where victim groaning in pain is
shoved a Bill under his nose which as the Minister reveal will
amount to Rs 2,000 per head.
Laudable as the Minister’s proposal aimed at controlling the
mounting suicide rate in the country it is fraught with many
flaws. To begin with the suicidee is normally an unbalanced
individual who has come to the end of his tether and had he
survived it would certainly not be out of choice. It would have
to be a rescue act on the part of a third party such as in the
case of an attempted suicide by drowning or self-immolation.
How is the Ministry planning to extract any fee from such an
unbalanced character who does not care one way or the other and
who in all probability would make another attempt at a future
date. Can the doctors in hospitals force a fee out of a man who
cares not for his own life? It is laughable to think that such a
man who only just attempt to kill himself could be coaxed into
paying a fee for treatment on pain of prosecution. This project
therefore is a dead letter and it is advisable that the Minister
abandoned any moves to introduce such a harebrained scheme and
invite the ridicule of the public.
Besides how will the doctor decide whether the injuries were
the result of an attempted suicide? There is always the
possibility of those accompanying the victim of an attempted
suicide say by setting oneself on fire who will present the case
as a victim of some misadventure or accident. Are the medical
authorities going to play the part of insurance investigators by
visiting the site of the incident to determine if it indeed was
a suicide attempt?
Unlike a case of an alcoholic where treatment will be a
prolonged one the damage caused by an attempted suicide would
need instant attention. Will this present itself for argument by
the medical staff and relatives over the question of a fee. What
if the suicidee refuses to pay after being treated? Is he going
to be hauled before court? Will this too not be an exercise in
futility given the mental state of the victim who cares not one
way or the other? Will the Government be able ever collect
anything from such cases?
And what next? Will there be a whole host of categories of
ailments for which a fee will be charged at Government hospitals
that are the result of human folly? Will State hospitals charge
a fee for ailments that have their genesis in obesity in order
to enjoin people to desist from over indulgence in fast foods in
a bid to provide a shot in arm to current campaign to consume
more and more homegrown food?
It is pertinent for all concerned to realize the futility and
impracticability of such projects. What should be done is to
address the root causes that give rise to suicides and
alcoholism. The Government needs to tackle the socioeconomic
issues that are the basis for such acts. No amount of
regimentation or deterrents to pay for one’s follies is going to
solve the problem.