By Sanika Joshi
The Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) has revised the syllabus of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology for second-year MBBS and MD (forensic medicine). The revisions are intended to teach doctors how to deal with victims of sexual assault in accordance with the new and more sensitive regulations. The changed syllabus will be implemented from the next academic year.
The man behind the change
This change has come about mainly due to the efforts of Dr Indrajit Khandekar, in-charge of the Clinical Forensic Medicine Unit at Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (MGIMS) in Sevagram, Wardha. According to Dr Indrajit, doctors would fail to handle the medico-legal aspects of a sexual assault case, if they are taught the old guidelines in the syllabus but asked to follow the new ones in practice. A change in the syllabus to reflect the new norms would be highly beneficial, for both, the patient and the doctor. Dr Khandekar was also responsible for drafting these new regulations for the government’s approval in 2014.
According to his report, ‘Pitiable & Horrendous Quality Of Forensic Medical Examination Of Sexual Assault Cases’, it was observed that there was absolutely no uniformity in examination, documentation and opinion writing in sexual assault cases. There were no detailed and proper medico-legal notes available. Limited numbers of specimens were collected for forensic analysis and in most of the cases, doctors did not try to collect the samples for DNA analysis which are very crucial evidence in rape cases. A Public Interest Litigation was filed based on this report by social workers and lawyers to pressurise the government to improve the present conditions.
What is new about the syllabus?
One of the major changes in the syllabus teaches the doctors about the victim’s right to go directly to the hospital, without having to lodge a complaint with the police. The doctors will now have to conduct tests and collect samples, according to a pre-defined list of over 20 forensic samples. These samples will help the police with their investigation. The samples may include removing and isolating clothing, scalp hair, foreign substances from the body, saliva, pubic hair, samples taken from the vagina, anus, rectum, mouth and a blood sample. This is a welcome change after the ad-hoc process of collecting only the 2-3 samples demanded by the police. Also, time-sensitive tests like DNA test, sperm test, nail clippings etc. can be carried out immediately, without waiting for the approval of the police.
Syllabus to produce better doctors
The syllabus teaches students that the victims must be provided with basic medical aid at private hospitals immediately instead of being sent to government hospitals, as is done today. However, the private doctors can conduct the medico-legal examination of the victim only at the request of the police. The highly derogatory and unscientific ‘two-finger test’, wherein the doctor inserts two fingers into the woman’s vagina to check its laxity to ascertain if the woman was habituated to sex, has also been outlawed by these new regulations. Not only was the test psychologically scarring for the victim but also ambiguous as there was no uniformity in the procedure.
Furthering the victim-sensitive regulations
The syllabus will also teach doctors to be more sensitive towards the survivors of sexual assault and not treat them like a walking and talking crime scene. The new guidelines strictly prohibit the doctors and assisting staff from using derogatory language and the use of the phrase ‘evidence of rape’ while presenting the medical results. The victims must also be taken to a separate, private room for examination, instead of in the out-patient department.
No third person is allowed to be present in the room during the examination. However, if the doctor is a male, a female attendant must be present. Issues like physical injuries, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, among others, must also be handled with intensive care. Trained counsellors should be made available to the victim immediately after the medical examination. Thus, the new guidelines not only help the victims get medical treatment for their physical ailments but also receive psychological support.
MUHS is one of the first universities to adopt the guidelines prescribed by the Center in 2014 and more universities expected to soon follow the suit.
Featured Image Credits: Visual Hunt
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