Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Significance of the Law On Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques - By Dr. Sabu George

Recent history of social legislation in India are hardly encouraging as far as their implementation is concerned.  However the national law against prenatal diagnostics is a positive step. For fifteen years (1979-1994), when private sex determination clinics were first established and the practice of female feticide flourished in north-western India, the people had received no message questioning the morality of this practice.  The enactment of the law enabled the National Human Rights Commission to direct the Medical Council of India to take action against Doctors found abusing prenatal diagnostic techniques. Today, blatant advertisements for fetal sex determination once seen in Bombay trains in the early eighties and in Delhi newspapers in the late eighties and nineties have virtually disappeared. Thanks to laws.

The first state law enacted in Maharashtra against sex determination was the Maharashtra Regulation of Use of Prenatal  Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1988. This was the result of vigorous public campaigning in the state. After this law was effected, the number of SD clinics in Mumbai went down and the practice of  SD also lessened. This achievement was all due to sustained campaigning and active monitoring of the Act by the FASDSP [ Forum against sex determination and Sex  Pre- selection].  Unfortunately this campaign faltered when the FASDSP became non functional and quite a few of the Mumbai  sex determination clinics resumed operation. However this campaign proved that a lot can be accomplished  by sustained efforts and eradicating complacency in the state governments. All future campaigns have to learn from the shortcomings of the abortive Maharshtra campaign.  State Governments should realize the importance and priority of the present law and not merely treat it with their usual complacency.  Tamilnadu is one such state that has yet to take effective and prompt action in the implementation of this Act. 

The inadequacies of the present law are largely because the Government of India has not been seriously committed to achieving the intent of this Act – The elimination of Sex Determination Testing.  Also, due to effective lobbying of Doctors in the early nineties, several positive features of the Maharashtra Act 1988 were watered down in the 1994 National Act.   A recent administrative directive from the Family Welfare Ministry excluded a sex determination technique like Erikson's from the purview of the 1944 Act asserting that it applied only to tests conducted on pregnant women. The immediate reaction to this directive was the resumption of newspaper advertisements in North west India again promoting this sophisticated reproductive technology.  These very Advertisements had been stopped only a year before when a petition challenging the illegality of these advertisements was filed with the Punjab Human Rights Commission by ‘ Women Against Violence’.  The unwillingness of the Government to interpret the legislation to keep it in tune with the inexorable progress in technology is self defeating.

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