An appeal filed against an order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) led the Supreme Court to the conclusion that medical practitioners shall not be charged with medical negligence even upon a patient’s death without any considerable evidence. The appellant alleged that the demise of the patient in question was due to delinquency of duty, further questioning the qualification of doctors.
However, the top court remained stern on its call saying that the exposition of the law clearly states that mischances and plausible errors in judgement cannot be used to accuse doctors of medical negligence.
This comes at a time when news about medical malpractices, medical negligence under IPC and harassment against doctors is increasing at an alarming rate.
An instance in the state of Rajasthan represents this issue clearly where a young gynaecologist had recently committed suicide after being subjected to harassment by a deceased patient’s family.
The Supreme Court verdict on medical negligence raises some important questions. Are there any laws regarding doctor duties in India? Is the 2022 Supreme Court verdict on medical negligence a relief for medical practitioners in the troubling times of COVID-19? If yes, what is medical negligence?
Let’s find out more about medical negligence under IPC and what the law has to say about doctors’ duties in India.
The Arrest of doctors under section 304/304A
The Increasing number of medical negligence allegations levied against doctors has led to the arrests of many doctors under IPC Section 304. For example, in the aforementioned case of Rajasthan, the patient seemed to have passed away because of postpartum haemorrhage but the police registered a complaint against the doctor and accused her for being responsible for the patient’s death.
In recent times, more and more doctors have been brought under the purview of Section 304 for the untimely death of patients owing to a wide range of factors that are not necessarily consequent of the doctors’ actions. The invocation of criminal laws in an indiscriminate manner by the police has put the fraternity of doctors in a state of panic and alarm.
In March 2022, Jaipur gynaecologist Dr Archana Sharma committed suicide, after an FIR was filed against her under 302 IPC, which is a section of murder.
Such allegations and the persecution of doctors that inevitably follows has intensified the lack of protection and support for medical practitioners. Cases of medical negligence against doctors is a highly complex scenario that must be checked by the necessary legal framework with the proper assistance of Medical Negligence lawyers.
The lack of awareness in people regarding how to report medical malpractices and the lack of education plays a vital role in this situation. Correct education will enable the masses to identify actual cases of medical negligence while simultaneously making them understand the significance of their patient rights, duties and responsibilities.
In a way, one can say that the latest judgment of the Supreme Court upheld the protection of doctors by claiming that they should not be charged for medical negligence unnecessarily without any considerable evidence.
Response of Indian Medical Association
The Indian Medical Association has also shown discontentment and disagreement towards the unfair treatment of doctors that drive the persons of this noble profession away from their doctor duties and closer to an undeserved fate – all without any relevant proof or the consultation of experts. With the recent Supreme Court verdict on Medical Negligence, concrete evidence regarding the medical practitioner’s lack of better judgement is essential to charge him/her with medical negligence. Even in cases of death, there must be considerable evidence to indicate that the same was a consequence of the dereliction of the doctor’s duty and not simply an inevitable circumstance.
Do you think that the increasing exposure of doctors to criminal charges without any evidence made it imperative for the Supreme Court to intervene, thus curbing the indiscriminate use of criminal law to regulate medical care?
Supreme Court’s verdict in case of death
According to the Supreme Court verdict on medical negligence, doctors are entrusted to follow the best medical protocols and expected to perform their duties in line with their reasonable skills, expertise and experience. If under unforeseen circumstances a patient may die, allegations levied against the doctors in charge will only be considered valid with cogent proof of their fault. Blaming them without any ample evidence for the death of the patient in question will only be affirmed as the grievance of the family members.
This brings us to raise an essential question – What is medical negligence?
What is medical negligence?
The term ‘medical negligence’ covers a very broad scope which makes it difficult to confine it into one definition. The circumstances and situations also vary from patient to patient making case-specific details a huge factor in the final decision regarding medical negligence.
In general terms, if a medical practitioner causes harm or injury to the patient while performing treatment or surgery which leads to the death of the patient, it is considered to be medical negligence. However, the intent and the case-specific circumstances of the death play a major role in determining the aspects of medical negligence. Only when the medical standard of care that is known and assured is deviated by the doctors does a medical malpractice actually occur. The lack of required skills and expertise and fault in execution including the inadequate hospital facilities can be deemed as contributory factors to causing medical negligence.
If you want to know more about medical negligence and the laws associated with it prescribed in the Indian Constitution, read – What is Medical Negligence? Know Your Patient Rights
Victims can file a proper complaint against the concerned medical practitioner in the Criminal Court, Consumer Court or State Medical Council. A medical negligence lawyer or patient-advocate is ideal to advise the victim regarding further procedures, legal dispositions, monetary formalities and so on.
The recent judgement of the Supreme Court on cases of medical negligence in India is surely a welcome step that is inclined in favour of the hardworking community of doctors. At the same time, it is also an important call of awareness to our general audience to know the Judiciary’s take on medical negligence and know your patient rights.
As simple as it can be conveyed, doctors are responsible authorities who are trained to save people’s lives and they shouldn’t be blamed for reasons that exceed the scope of their control.
With the Supreme Court taking an active interest in cases of medical malpractice in India, much can be anticipated to bring fundamental changes to patient-doctor relationships and the overall treatment of medical practitioners in the country.
Stay up-to-date with all information related to medical negligence laws in India by reading our blog and following our specialized team of expert lawyers for doctor malpractices.
The Author :
Dr. Sunil Khattri
Dr Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.