Only Oommen Chandy and his family can decide the kind of treatment he wants: Expert

Meanwhile, allegations of his family subjecting him to faith healing are aimed to hamper the electoral prospects of his son Chandy Oommen.

ByK A Shaji

Published Feb 07, 2023 | 9:23 PM Updated Feb 07, 2023 | 9:36 PM

Former Kerala Chef Minister Oommen Chandy.

While two-time Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy will be airlifted to Bengaluru on Wednesday, 8 February, to facilitate better treatment for throat cancer and age-related illnesses, the controversy surrounding his failing health has sparked a debate over patients’ privacy, confidentiality, and autonomy.

Public health and human rights activists are even questioning the right of the Kerala Health Department to unilaterally constitute a six-member medical board to oversee his treatment in response to a letter signed by 42 relatives of Chandy and addressed to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Health Minister Veena George.

This, even as Congress leaders claimed that the allegations against his family were meant to hamper the electoral prospects of his son Chandy Oommen.

Questions on ethics and privacy 


Oommen Chandy with Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. (KB Jayachandran/South First)

Talking to South First from Kolkata over the phone, noted palliative-care expert and public health activist Dr K Suresh Kumar said only the patient and their close family members could decide on the nature and course of the treatment — no relative can dictate terms.

“It’s worrying and unethical that distant relatives are rallying together and engaging in character assassination of the wife and children of Oommen Chandy and holding them to ransom,” said Suresh Kumar.

“Oommen Chandy is ailing but conscious and maintains a stable capacity. Only he can decide the kind of treatment he wants and the hospital to be consulted,” added the former director of the Institute of Palliative Medicine under the Government Medical College in Kozhikode.

“Even if he and his family decide to look for alternative medicines or to remain without opting for any treatment, the larger society and government have limitations in intervention. There is no coercion in the case of Chandy, and he appeared in a television message deploring rumour-mongers and expressing satisfaction over the treatment he gets,” noted Suresh Kumar.

“The family’s affinity for faith-healing continues an allegation demanding validation. There is no proof of that. But there is sufficient evidence to prove that the family’s privacy, confidentiality, and autonomy have been violated,” said Suresh Kumar.

“The basic human rights of an ailing leader and his immediate family have not been respected. Except for wild allegations and rumours, there is nothing in the controversy,” he added.

“If faith healing is involved in the whole affair, it needs proof and must be addressed differently. Laws prohibit the infringing on the rights of the patient and their close relatives,” said Suresh Kumar.

The events, as they unfolded

Sources from Oommen Chandy’s family told South First that they were under tremendous pressure ever since his younger brother Alex got together with 42 relatives and wrote a letter to the chief minister seeking his intervention to treat the Congress leader, who, according to them, was being subjected to faith healing.

The family categorically denied the charge that Chandy was being denied access to modern medicine. They clarified that they were spiritual believers and churchgoers who engaged in prayers and administered medicines prescribed by doctors.

The sources also pointed out that the family had taken him to Germany for surgery, as party leader Rahul Gandhi suggested.

Amidst the hints of possible government intervention based on the letter by the relatives, the family took Chandy to a private hospital at Neyyattinkara on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram on the evening of 6 February, and he was admitted to the intensive care unit there.

Chandy was exhibiting symptoms of pneumonia at that time, but doctors later reported improvement.

On Tuesday morning, Veena George visited Chandy at the hospital as instructed by Vijayan, and interacted with the immediate family on the treatment being administered.

Within hours after the meeting, the government constituted the medical panel comprising expert doctors in the Health Department.

But Kerala Assembly Leader of the Opposition VD Satheesan met Oommen Chandy and his family in the hospital by evening and, based on their suggestion, booked an air ambulance to take him to Bengaluru for treatment with Dr Vishal Rao, an oncologist with HNG Oncology Hospital.

Rao has been supervising Oommen Chandy’s treatment since he was discharged from the German hospital where his surgery was conducted.

Doctors at the German hospital were also in constant touch with Rao, said the family.

Also read: Privacy concerns keep TB patients away from Ni-kshay Mitra scheme

A political conspiracy?

According to several Congress leaders in Kerala, the latest controversy is the creation of some vested interests involving some disgruntled elements in the extended Chandy family and some pro-LDF elements.

The Congress leaders believe the target of the attack was Chandy Oommen, politician son of Oommen Chandy, who was likely to contest from the Puthuppally Assembly constituency of the Kottayam district once his father vacated it citing ill health.

Oommen Chandy became Kerala’s longest-serving MLA by being elected continuously from Puthuppally since 1970.

Chandy Oommen has a clean political image, and has emerged as a potential candidate in the next election in Puthuppally by walking with Rahul Gandhi from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.


Oommen Chandy with congress leaders in Kerala. Photo: K B Jayachandran.

Now, conspirators are targeting Chandy Oommen by alleging that he and his mother preferred faith healing and ignored modern medicine, feel the Congress leaders.

The conspirators even accused Chandy Oommen, his mother and two sisters of not getting vaccinated against Covid-19 because of their confidence in faith healing.

According to John Samuel, head of the public policy wing of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) and an international development practitioner, the controversy involves stereotypes and prejudices.

“I know the Chandy family personally. It is an utter lie that they oppose modern medicines and practise faith healing. They are simply Christians affiliated with the Syrian Orthodox Church of Kerala. Only the vested interests are behind this hate campaign, which has caused severe mental trauma for Oommen Chandy,” he said.

The final word

According to Suresh Kumar, patient confidentiality was the very basis of medical ethics.

No third party had the right to access the confidential health matters of an individual, he said.

“If the medical board was constituted without seeking the opinion of a patient who was in a sound mental condition, that would also be a clear violation,” added Suresh Kumar.

“Here, the patient is not a minor and does not have dementia or any psychological disorder. He is not unconscious as well. Thus, he will be the ultimate authority to decide on his treatment,” he explained.

“As Oommen Chandy’s illness is not causing any disturbance to public health, outsiders have no right to infringe. Whether the patient opts for a modern doctor or a traditional healer is their choice. The patient chooses the doctor, and not vice versa,” he said.