Doctors should not be dragged into criminal proceedings unless negligence of high order : Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court has observed that the medical professionals should not be dragged into criminal proceedings unless negligence of a high order is shown.

In this case, a doctor was accused of medical negligence for allegedly not attending a woman after performing cesarean operation, which resulted in her death. She was discharged by the Trial Court by allowing her application. The Appellate Court reversed this order of the Trial Court.

In appeal, the bench comprising of Justices Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta, referring to judgment in Jacob Mathew vs. State of Punjab & Anr. (2005) 6 SCC 1 , observed that to prosecute the medical professionals for negligence under criminal law, something more than mere negligence had to be proved. It said:

In Jacob Mathew's Case this Court clearly held that in criminal law medical professionals are placed on a pedestal different from ordinary mortals. It was further held that to prosecute the medical professionals for negligence under criminal law, something more than mere negligence had to be proved. Medical professionals deal with patients and they are expected to take the best decisions in the circumstances of the case. Sometimes, the decision may not be correct, and that would not mean that the medical professional is guilty of criminal negligence. Such a medical profession may be liable to pay damages but unless negligence of a high order is shown the medical professionals should not be dragged into criminal proceedings. That is why in Jacob Mathew's case (supra)this Court held that in case of criminal negligence against a medical professional it must be shown that the accused did something or failed to do something in the given facts and circumstances of the case which no medical professional in his ordinary senses and prudence would have done or failed to do."

 

It also observed that, in such cases an independent opinion of a medical professional should be obtained in this regard. While allowing the appeal, the bench said:

 

"In the present case the appellants failed to obtain any opinion of an independent doctor. The postmortem report does not show that the death of Santosh Rani had occurred due to the transfusion of blood. The only negligence that could be attributed to the accused is that they carried out the blood transfusion in violation of some instructions issued by the Chief Medical Officer that blood should be obtained from a licensed blood bank and that no direct blood transfusion from the donor to the patient should be done. In our opinion even if this is true the negligence is not such as to fall within the ambit of Jacob Mathew's case."

 

In Jacob Mathew, the Supreme Court had laid down guidelines to govern the prosecution of doctors for offences of which criminal rashness or criminal negligence is an ingredient. It had said:

 

A private complaint may not be entertained unless the complainant has produced prima facie evidence before the Court in the form of a credible opinion given by another competent doctor to support the charge of rashness or negligence on the part of the accused doctor. The investigating officer should, before proceeding against the doctor accused of rash or negligent act or omission, obtain an independent and competent medical opinion preferably from a doctor in government service qualified in that branch of medical practice who can normally be expected to give an impartial and unbiased opinion applying Bolam's test to the facts collected in the investigation. A doctor accused of rashness or negligence, may not be arrested in a routine manner (simply because a charge has been levelled against him). Unless his arrest is necessary for furthering the investigation or for collecting evidence or unless the investigation officer feels satisfied that the doctor proceeded against would not make himself available to face the prosecution unless arrested, the arrest may be withheld. 

 

Source - LiveLaw 



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