While setting aside the Allahabad High Court Judgment and quashing proceedings against Dr. M.P.Kaushik, the supreme court said that a doctor cannot be prosecuted for death of a patient under section 304 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), which is applicable for ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder.’ The judgment exonerates doctors from many unintentional acts causing harm to the patients and makes them free for best treatment with their skilled judgment.
Delivering judgment a few days ago, the Apex Court said that a doctor could however be tried under section 304A of IPC for ‘causing death by negligence’ on a doctor’s part. Clearing the air further, the court said that a genuine error of judgment on the part of the doctor did not amount to negligence. Even mere deviation from normal professional practices, not necessarily, is evidence of negligence.
While delivering the judgment, the court made following important observations: –
- Every misfortune or failure in a hospital or a clinic of a doctor cannot be termed as an act of negligence. If courts were to impose criminal liability on hospitals and doctors for every thing that goes wrong, the doctors would be more worried about thier safety than proper treatment of the patient.
- Criminal prosecution of doctors without adequate medical opinion pointing to their guilt would be doing a disservice to the community.
- A physician cannot promise the patient that the results of his treatment would invariably be beneficial or lead to full recovery in every case. The only guarantee the professional could give his patient is that he possesses requisite skill to treat him and that he would be exercising his skill with reasonable competence.
The court also demarcated grounds on which a prosecution could be started for ‘negligence’ against a medical professional as follows: –
- The professional did not have the requisite skill he claimed to possess for the treatment.
- The professional did not exercise his skill that he possesses, with reasonable competence.
The cause of action in this case arose when complainant Devender Kumar took his father Buddha Ram to the clinic of Dr. Kaushik on 4th July’01 after he complained of chest pain. Kumar claimed that his father died within half an hour after Dr. Kaushik administered three injections. Three villagers who accompanied Kumar corroborated the allegation.
Police conducted an investigation under magisterial order on 9th January’02 and reported that Kumar’s father died of heart attack on the way to the clinic of Dr. Kaushik.
The Mathura court Magistrate however ordered prosecution of the doctor under section 506 for criminal intimidation of the patient’s son and under section 304 for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
Dr. Kaushik challenged this order in the Allahabad High court, which however upheld the judgment of the lower court. Dr. Kaushik then moved the Supreme Court.