By S.S. Selvanayagam
A Fundamental Rights violation petition was filed yesterday, challenging the Gazette notification that a body related to death either confirmed or suspected of COVID-19, should be exclusively cremated within 24 hours (preferably within 12 hours).
Two Catholics Oshala Lakmal Anil Herath and Ranmal Anthony Amerasinghe filed two separate petitions through Gowry Shangary Thavarasha, citing Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Ministry Secretary Dr. Bhadrani Jayawardena, Health Services Director General Dr Anil Jasinghe and the Attorney General as Respondents.
Petitioner Oshala states the virus referred to as ‘COVID-19’ is an infectious disease caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 and is an ongoing viral pandemic.
He states that on 24 March, the World Health Organization published interim guidance for the safe management of a cadaver (dead body) in the context of the virus and that pursuant to the Interim Guidance a cadaver in the context of the virus can be either buried or cremated.
He states that in March, the Ministry of Health published Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID-19 suspected and confirmed patients (MoH Guideline).
He states that however, on 31 March, immediately after the second COVID-19 death who is identified as a person of the Islamic faith, the Health Ministry without any notice suddenly amended the Guideline that a body related to death either confirmed or suspected COVID-19, should be exclusively cremated within 24 hours (preferably within 12 hours). On 11 April, the Government issued a Gazette Extraordinary.
He states that the aforesaid Regulation 61A is ultra vires the powers granted to the Health Minister.
He states there is no scientific evidence to support a conclusion that cremation is safer than burial to prevent the infection from virus.
He states the law obligates the State to respect the religious and cultural worship, observance, practices and teaching of every person in the disposal of human remains.
He seeks a declaration from the Court that the Respondents and/or the State have infringed the fundamental rights and asks for an Order quashing the impugned Regulation.