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news details
Medical Professionals Should Not Be Dragged Into Criminal Proceedings Unless Negligence Of A High Order Is Shown: SC
2/21/2020 12:03:45 AM
Dinesh Singh Chauhan

To infer rashness or negligence on the part of a professional, in particular a doctor, additional considerations apply. A case of occupational negligence is different from one of professional negligence. A simple lack of care, an error of judgment or an accident, is not proof of negligence on the part of a medical professional. So long as a doctor follows a practice acceptable to the medical profession of that day, he/she cannot be held liable for negligence merely because a better alternative course or method of treatment was also available or simply because a more skilled doctor would not have chosen to follow or resort to that practice or procedure which the accused followed. The classical statement of law in "Bolam Vs. Friern Hospital Management Committee", (1957) 1 WLR 582: (1957) 2 AII ER 118 (QBD) popularly known as Bolam's test, has been widely accepted as decisive of the standard of care required both of professional men generally and medical practitioners in particular, and holds good in its applicability in India. In tort, it is enough for the defendant to show that the standard of care and the skill attained was that of the ordinary competent medical practitioner exercising an ordinary degree of professional skill. The fact that a defendant charged with negligence acted in accord with the general and approved practice is enough to clear him of the charge. It is not necessary for every professional to possess the highest level of expertise in that branch which he/she practices. Three things are pertinent to be noted. Firstly, the standard of care, when assessing the practice as adopted, is judged in the light of knowledge available at the time (of the incident), and not at the date of trial. Secondly, when the charge of negligence arises out of failure to use some particular equipment, the charge would fail if the equipment was not generally available at that point of time (that is, the time of the incident) on which it is suggested as should have been used. Thirdly, when it comes to the failure of taking precautions, what has to be seen is whether those precautions were taken which the ordinary experience of men has found to be sufficient; a failure to use special or extraordinary precautions which might have prevented the particular happening cannot be the standard for judging the alleged negligence. The indiscriminate prosecution of medical professionals for criminal medical negligence is counter-productive and does no service or good to the society. A medical practitioner faced with an emergency ordinarily tries his best to redeem the patient out of his/her suffering. He/She does not gain anything by acting with negligence or by omitting to do an act. Obviously, therefore, it will be for the complainant to clearly make out a case of negligence before a medical practitioner is charged with or proceeded against criminally. A surgeon with shaky hands under fear of legal action cannot perform a successful operation and a quivering physician cannot administer the end-dose of medicine to his patient. If the hands be trembling with the dangling fear of facing a criminal prosecution in the event of failure for whatever reason--whether attributable to himself or not, neither can a surgeon successfully wield his life-saving scalpel to perform an essential surgery, nor can a physician successfully administer the life-saving dose of medicine. Discretion being the better part of valour, a medical professional would feel better advised to leave a terminal patient to his own fate in the case of emergency where the chance of success may be 10% (or so), rather than taking the risk of making a last ditch effort towards saving the subject and facing a criminal prosecution if his effort fails. Such timidity forced upon a doctor would be a disservice to the society.
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