June 12, 2008

Narco-analysis satisfies UN definition of torture

Amar Jesani, a founder and an editorial board member of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, and a well-known human rights and medical ethics activist, tells The Times of India why he considers narco-analysis legally, professionally and ethically wrong:

Q: Why are you against narco-analysis?

Where is the independent scientific evidence to show that narco-analysis reveals only the truth and not also something else? Psychiatrists who use hypnosis, make certain suggestions which the patient accepts with less
inhibition than she normally would. Why isn't this possible in narco-analysis, where the same drug, sodium pentothal, is used to achieve a trance-like stage?

Doctors doing this have an obligation to provide evidence that their 'suggestions' are also accurate. Otherwise there will always be a suspicion that the 'truth' found in narco-analysis could be 'manufactured truth', planted by the interrogators.

Secondly, I am not sure about the 'painless' part. Sure, it is carried out in a sterile operation theatre by doctors. But can't there be pain and degradation of a person even in the absence of filth, broken bones and blood?

Our campaign is not against narco-analysis per se, it is against torture, howsoever painless it may be. I am not in the business of humanising torture. For me torture remains torture, physical or otherwise.

Remember that infliction of psycho-logical trauma is often much more effective than physical torture. Bodily wounds heal very fast, other wounds may not heal at all.

Q: How can you equate it with torture?

The UN definition of torture has four components: it produces physical/mental suffering and is degrading; it is intentionally inflicted; it is intended for purposes such as getting information, confessions, etc; and it is inflicted by an official. Narco-analysis satisfies all four. In India, video clips of the actual narco-analysis are telecast repeatedly, when the same is not even admissible as evidence in court!

Q: You have been trying to get doctors to refuse. Can they do so, without being charged?

The World Medical Association, of which the Indian Medical Association is a member, in its 1975 Tokyo Declaration not only prohibited doctors from participating in or assisting any kind of torture, but also made it mandatory to report it if they happened to examine a tortured person. Here, doctors are actually conducting the torture on behalf of the authorities in the premises of a hospital, which must not be used for purposes other than healing patients.

Doctors have a moral duty to fight against any order in violation of medical ethics. This tolerance of unethical conduct and collusion in human rights violations by doctors worries me more, as willing participation is a sign of medicine providing increasing space to authoritarian tendencies in society.


Dr Rajshekher said...

I read this interview at the time it appeared in TOI..do agree with Amar Jesani's opinion...narco-analysis is just like hypnotism, and what the victim spills out has as much to do with what has been suggested him as with the actual truth...that is why courts don't accept it as material evidence...but I thnk it is worth keeping an aura of respectability around it, because so many criminals r ignorant of this procedure that they r likely to get fooled by it...wonder y defence lawyers don't raise a hue n cry over it..maybe they advice their clients not to worry since that evidence is anyway not admissible...at the most it provides the investigative agencies with some leads...I wouldn't go so far as to call it torture...if u keep in mind the hell the victims of these criminals go through...of course, a few innocents get entrapped, and that is the only valid arguement against it...but since narco-analysis has been scientifically proven untenable, they needn't worry...n the psychological trauma of being taken through the wringer as a suspect is bad enough...hope u get my point!

sindhu said...
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