Medical profession deserves dignity & fair play

30 May 2022 0 Comment

Medical professionals have enjoyed a high degree of respect in society, owing to the nature and importance of their work, as also the dedication and sacrifice which the profession demands. A sense of nobleness is often attributed to the profession, and for good reason. Unfortunately, recent events in Dausa, Rajasthan, leading to the death by suicide of a doctor, have completely shaken the confidence of medical professionals. The case is a shocking one, where the law enforcement authorities went to the extent of registering a case of murder against a medical professional, even though the death in question occurred on account of a recognised medical complication following delivery. Thrown to the winds was the prudent caution advocated by no less than the highest court in our country, to seek expert view of the medical care given to the patient before registering a case. The ramifications are grave, with the very dignity, confidence and safety of medical professionals being at stake. Unless ameliorative action is taken, the reverberations will be felt not only by the medical fraternity but by society as a whole. A bright professional has been lost through sheer apathy and negligence in the handling of the matter by the local authorities, perhaps under some pressure from powerful quarters. The incident is a blot on our system. One cannot begin to imagine the harassment and mental trauma suffered by the doctor, who felt compelled to end her life. I wish to draw attention to a perceptive and sagacious judgment by the Supreme Court delivered in 2005, in a case titled Jacob Mathew vs State of Punjab. The SC not only quashed the criminal prosecution of the doctors, and held that in such cases the investigating officer should before proceeding against the doctor accused of negligence, “obtain an independent and competent medical opinion preferably from a doctor in government service, qualified in that branch of medical practice”. The judgment is extremely well considered and balanced, and worth reading in its entirety. In arriving at the above conclusions, the court carried out a detailed analysis of the law relating to negligence, with particular reference to allegations of negligence against professionals. It wisely observed that the subject of negligence in the context of medical professionals “necessarily calls for treatment with a difference”. We must reconsider whether the existing regime of legal liability serves us well. Quite apart from the liability under criminal law, the inclusion of doctors under the consumer protection laws has serious and adverse consequences and should be reviewed. It has already led to a mushrooming of unnecessary investigations, inquiries and litigation. Unfortunately, people appear to be routinely approaching consumer forums, in the hope of monetary awards. Cases drag on for years, creating a sense of fear and frustration in the minds of doctors. Even naturally arising complications during the course of treatment are now viewed through the lens of suspicion, as in the Dausa case.