Pt. Parmanand Katara Vs Union Of India & Ors.

Human life is more  valuable  and must be preserved  at  all costs  and  that every member of  the  medical profession,  may, every human being, is  under an  obligation to provide such aid to  another as  may be necessary to help him survive  from near-fatal accidents.

Case name:Pt. Parmanand Katara Vs. Union of India & Ors.
Citation:1989 AIR 2039
Court:The Supreme court of India
Decided on:AUGUST 28, 1989
Relevant Act/Sections:Article 21 of Constitution of India, 1950, Section 33 of Indian Medical Council Act, 1860
  • The petitioner who claims himself to be a ’small human right activist and fighting for the  good causes for the general public interest’ filed this  application  under  Article  32 of the Constitution  asking  for  a direction  to the Union of India that every injured  citizen brought for treatment should instantaneously be given  medical  aid  to  preserve life and  thereafter  the  procedural criminal law should be allowed to operate in order to  avoid negligent  death and in the event of breach of  such  direction,  apart  from any action that may be taken  to negligence,  appropriate  compensation should be  admissible. 
  • He appended to the writ petition a report entitled ’Law  helps the injured to die’ published in the Hindustan Times. In the said publication it was alleged that a scooterist  was knocked down by a speeding car. Seeing the profusely bleeding scooterist, a person who was on the road picked up  the injured  and took him to the nearest hospital. 
  • The doctors refused to attend on the injured and told the man that he should take the patient to a named different hospital located some 20 kilometers away authorised to handle medico-legal cases. The samaritan carried the victim, lost no time to approach the other hospital but before he could reach, the victim succumbed to his injuries.
  • The Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare of the Union  of India, the Medical Council of India  and  the Indian Medical Association were later impleaded as  respondents  and return to the rule has been made by each of  them.
  • On behalf of the Union of India, the Under Secretary in  the Ministry  of  Health  & Family Welfare  filed  an  affidavit appending the proceedings of the meeting held on 29.5.  1986 in  which the Director-General of Health Services  acted  as Chairman.  Along  with the affidavit,  decisions  of  papers relating  to  the steps taken from time to time  in  matters relating to matters relevant to the application but confined to the Union Territory of Delhi were filed. A report in May, 1983,  submitted  by the Sub-Committee set up  by  the  Home Department  of  the  Delhi  Administration on  Medico-Legal Centers  and Medico-Legal Services has also  been  produced.
  • The status of medico-legal case was discussed.
  • The court observe from the proceedings it appears that the question of providing medico-legal facilities, at the upgraded primary health centres throughout the country was under consideration but the Committee was of the opinion  that time was not ripe to think of  providing  such facilities  at the upgraded primary health centres.  One of the  documents  which  forms part of the  Union  of  India’s affidavit  is  the copy of a letter dated 9th of  May,  1978 which  indicates  that a report on some  aspects  of  Medico Legal Practice in India had been prepared and a copy of such report  was furnished to the Health Secretaries of  all  the States and Union Territories more than eleven years back.  
  • From these documents appended to the affidavit  of  the Union of India, it is clear that the matter has been  engaging  the attention of the Central Government as also of  the Governments of the States and the Union Territories for over a  decade.  No improvement of the  situation,  however,  is perceptible and the problem which led to the filing of  this petition  seems  to exist in hospitals and  private  nursing homes and clinics throughout the country.
  • In course of the hearing, the court directed the petitioner to place on record for the consideration of the Court and  the respondents  a draft guideline which could be prescribed  to ease the situation keeping the professional ethics in  view. When the same was filed, copies thereof were circulated to the respondents and all parties have been heard on the basis of the guidelines submitted on behalf of the petitioner.
  • The Medical Council of India has placed on record a copy of the Code of Medical Ethics and counsel has  made  a statement that there is no prohibition in law justifying the attitude of the doctors as complained. On the other hand, he stated that it is a part of the professional ethics to start treating the patient as soon as he is brought before the doctor for medical attention inasmuch as it is the paramount obligation of the doctor to save human life and bring  the patient out of the risk zone at the earliest with a view  to preserving  life.
  • The court observed that there can be no second opinion that preservation of human life is of paramount importance. That is so on account of the fact that once life is lost, the status quo ante cannot be restored as resurrection is beyond the capacity of man. The patient whether he be an innocent person or be a criminal liable to punishment under the laws of the society, it is the obligation of those who are in charge of the health of the community to preserve life so that the innocent may be protected and the guilty may be punished.
  • Social laws do not contemplate death by negligence to tantamount to legal punishment. Article 21 of the Constitution casts the obligation on the State to preserve life. The provision as explained by this Court in scores of decisions has emphasised and reiterated with  gradually increasing emphasis that  position.  A doctor at the Government hospital   positioned to meet this State obligation is, therefore, duty-bound to extend medical assistance for preserving life. Every doctor whether at a Government hospital or otherwise has the  professional obligation to extend his services with due  expertise for protecting life
  • The matter  is extremely urgent and in our view, brooks no delay to  remind every  doctor of his total obligation and assure him of  the position that he does not contravene the law of the land  by proceeding  to  treat the injured victim on  his  appearance before him either by himself or being carried by others. The court made it clear that zonal regulations  and  classifications  cannot  also  operate as fetters in  the  process  of discharge  of  the obligation and irrespective of  the  fact whether  under instructions or rules, the victim has  to  be sent  elsewhere  or how the police shall be  contacted,  the guideline  indicated in the 1985 decision of the  Committee, as extracted above, is to become operative.
  • Justice Oza concurring observed It could not be forgotten that seeing an injured man in a miserable condition the human instinct of every citizen moves him to rush for help and do all that can be done to save the life. It could not be disputed that in spite of development economical, political and cultural still citizens are human beings and all the more when a man in such a miserable state hanging between life and death reaches the medical practitioner either in a hospital (run or managed by the State) public authority or a private person or a medical professional doing only private practice he is always called upon to rush to help such an injured person and to do all that is within his power to save life. So far as this duty of a medical professional is concerned its duty coupled with human instinct, it needs no decision nor any code of ethics nor any rule or law. Still in the Code of Medical Ethics framed by the Medical Council of India Item 13 specifically provides for it.
  • The court directed that this decision of ours shall be published in all journals reporting decisions of this Court and adequate publicity highlighting these aspects should be given by the national media as also through the Doordarshan and the All India Radio. The Registry shall forward adequate number of copies of this judgment to every High Court so that without delay the respective High Courts can forward them to every Sessions Judge within their respective jurisdictions and the Sessions Judges in their turn shall give due publicity to the same within their jurisdictions. The Medical Council of India shall forward copies of this judgment to every medical college affiliated to it. Copies of the judgment shall be forwarded to every State Government with a direction that wide publicity should be given about the relevant aspects so that every practising doctor would soon become aware of the position.
  • In case the State Governments and the Union Territories which have not been heard file any representation against the direction, they shall have liberty to appear before this Court and ask for appropriate direction within three months from now. Applications filed after that date shall not be entertained by the Registry of this Court. Until altered, this judgment shall be followed.
  • The petition disposed off accordingly.

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