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|
|Bench:||JUSTICE MISRA RANGNATH, JUSTICE OZA|
|Decided on:||AUGUST 28, 1989|
|Relevant Act/Sections:||Article 21 of Constitution of India, 1950, Section 33 of Indian Medical Council Act, 1860|
- BRIEF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
- 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.
- PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
- 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.
- ISSUE BEFORE THE COURT:
- The status of medico-legal case was discussed.
- RATIO OF THE COURT:
- 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.
- DECISION HELD BY COURT:
- 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.