Parents of 20-day infant file FR against mandatory cremation

Thursday, 24 December 2020 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Seek 5-Judge bench as matter of great public importance

The parents of the 20-day-old infant who was cremated against their wishes filed a Fundamental Rights application before the Supreme Court through their Attorney Sanjeewa Kaluarachchi yesterday.

The parents detailing their ordeal said in the petition that authorities at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital had cremated the body of the infant in an undue hurry. They state that they pleaded from the hospital authorities to permit a second PCR test on the child after his death, but were denied. 

The petition states that the child was in good health after his birth on 18 November and had no contact with any outside persons as the area they live in was under lockdown.

However, around 7 December the child had developed a temperature and a phlegmy condition. The parents had rushed the baby to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital at around 10 p.m.

After an initial test on the child and the parents the hospital authorities had informed the parents that their child had contracted COVID-19. They had thereafter been asked to return home in the wee hours of the next day, leaving the child at the hospital, the petition said. 

The petition states that the mother had pleaded to be with the child in order to breastfeed him and provide other care, however the authorities had declined and ordered them to go home. The petition states that the parents were informed that they could contact the hospital via telephone.

In the afternoon of 8 December they had received a call stating that a PCR test had been conducted and that the child was confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. The authorities had informed the petitioners that they would be kept updated on the situation of the child.

However, the petitioners state that they did not receive a call. They had thereafter called the hospital at around 5:15 p.m. It was only then that they had been informed that the child had died an hour earlier. 

The petition states that thereafter there had been an undue hurry to cremate the body of the infant. Neither the parents nor their relatives had been permitted to see the body and instead the authorities had demanded a consent form be signed. 

The petition states that at around 4 p.m. on 9 December whilst awaiting a method to obtain another PCR test, the petitioners had received a call and had been asked why they were not present at the Borella Cemetery.

The petitioners state that they had not been given any intimation whatsoever that the child would be cremated on that day. 

The petition also quotes an email circulated on social media sent by Professor Shehan Williams, Consultant Psychiatrist to the Sri Lanka Medical Association Intercollegiate Committee.

“The recent incident at the LRH further highlights the communication and ethics of our professionals in the way it has been handled. I have no doubt that the doctors concerned would have done their best for the child in terms of the treatment. The issue however is that we fail in breaking bad news or empathising with our patients or their families and the senior most professional concerned does not take this responsibility in most instances in our country,” the email had read.

The email goes on say: “The silence of our medical profession really appals me when it comes to certain issues, making me wonder whether our establishment too is steeped in racism or is willing to ignore science and ethics due to fear.”

The petition also quotes world-renowned Professor Malik Peiris who the petition states had categorically refuted any scientific basis for the virus to be transmitted from bodies which are buried.

The Petitioner had requested a full bench as the matter is of public and general importance and that certain reliefs sought had been refused leave by majority decision.