Should Doctors Be Tried in Consumer Courts

The Indian Supreme Court has ruled that doctors can be sued for medical negligence in consumer courts set up under India’s consumer protection act of 1986. The landmark judgment, delivered last week, caps the nine year old controversy over whether doctors providing medical services to patients on payment of fees can be held liable under this act. Responding to appeals by doctors against earlier judgments by state high courts, the Supreme Court ruled that patients aggrieved by deficiencies in medical services rendered for payment can claim damages Should doctors be tried in consumer courts?

This issue requires much debate, a lot of questioning, also a lot of introspection. But before we do that, let me ask, why do we limit ourselves to consumer courts?? Why are we afraid to move to criminal courts if the quantum of crime is culpable enough to be tried only in criminal courts?? When I say this, I wish to emphasize on the point that doctors are after all human beings. They are bound to get carried away by pleasure of life, greed for money and desire for a lavish lifestyle. This may encourage the devils inside them, they may switch over to illegal activities, may mint quick money and fulfill their hiddendesires.

Somebody, at this instance, may like to raise a point that doctors are human beings also when they are performing complex surgeries. They are bound to make small mistakes, forget a glove back in the stomach of a patient, inadvertently give a wrong injection, prescribe unknowingly a useless drug. Agreed!!! I don’t suggest harsh punishment for such situations. But I wish that we do not neglect this issue in totality and that too for two reasons. One, because if we allow a doctor to got scott free after leaving a surgical instrument into a patient’s abdomen, we are encouraging his carelessness.

There is one in every chance that this mistake may repeat itself and the doctor will never repent for it. Another reason I discourage this practice is- A black sheep in the herd of dedicated doctors, may, under the veil of “Non purposeful mistake”; Do illegal activities. He, for his unethical gains, perform acts as – prescribe a banned drug to his patient and when he get access to it, supply it potential buyers abroad. Not only this, on pretext of a small operation, he may remove vital organs from the body of a patient while the patient remains in dark.

Unlawful activities, but with a lesser criminal intention, could be purposefully keeping a patient in ICU although there is no need of it!!! This point reminds me of a case, where in a patient’s family proved themselves smart enough for the doctors. Let me give a first hand description of this, although in brief. A patient on death bed, with serious kidney malfunction was admitted in a government hospital. Observing the serious condition of the patient, he was instantaneously recommended to a better equipped private hospital. Unfortunately, he breathed his last on the way.

Promptly the private hospital issued a death certificate. Unsatisfied with the callous attitude of doctors from government hospitals he was again admitted in the government hospital. The hospital declared him dead after two days, issued a huge bill along with a death certificate. Armed with two death certificates issued on two different dates, the family published the horror story in media channels. This story is another reason why I did not blame only private hospitals and private doctors of illegal bunglings, because that would have shielded all government employed doctors.

I blame this situation on the society as a whole and government policies

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in particular. Society because every 1 in 5 families of a patient is willing enough to have an illegal organ transplant or blood transfusion from an illegal source; if it guarantees the welfare of the patient. This encourages doctors to switch to illegal means for any need, small or big. And the government policies are equally responsible because the scenario since independence, by and large remains the same. There has been no increase in the numbers of opportunities available to this class of people whom we call doctors.

Instead we expect them to serve the masses, with minimal(or sometimes even nil) infrastructure, no incentives and when compared to their better offs in IT and MANAGEMENT sectors, only a handful are able to give competition. But before blaming anyone else, Is it not the moral and ethical responsibility of a doctor to serve selflessly his fellow beings? Is this not the first thing taught in medical colleges?!! May be I am keeping my foot on one more debatable topic.!!!! ? Now let me stir the pot a bit more. People die, as sure as they are born, they will die. Its a fact of life and one had better learn to accept it.

People do not die ONLY because of doctors mistakes. If my memory does not fail me, the lady, whose death caused the JJ Hospital incident, was 75 years old. No details about what she was suffering from, on how long she was ailing, or the condition she was brought to the hospital in. Despite lacking these vital dfetails, you are ready to accept that the death was due to negligence. That is being unfair. Years ago, when I was still a houseman, we had a patient brought in with a myocardial infarction. The man had suffered a couple of infarctions over the years and his family was well aware that the next one could be fatal.

Despite our best efforts he died. The family accepted this and were taking the body away, when the youngest son arrived. This guy had been out drinking, and made such a tamasha, threatening to kill the doctors, screaming abuse etc. Eventually the security had to physically throw him out of teh hospital. Often these dramatic and explosive incidents take place to “demonstrate” grief, however phony it may be. I have witnessed many such incidents, and feel that even if there was negligence, the Consumer Protection Courts are available to redress any complaint. Beating up pepole is not the solution to the problem.

Hi rocrab – long time no see , no hear from you on forums…… OK so you are a Doctor right??? So lets first establish the fact that you are biased- right or wrong??? Ok second point – the JJ hospital fiasco was uncalled for thats for sure. And it also highlighted the plight of 100’s of overworked doctors and their meagre stipends. But the fact remains is that you do something wrong – you get punished. I do not think Consumer courts should try Doctors. As in lawyers – they should be debarred from practising medicine if found guilty. Anyways the point I want to bring out strongly is that :-1.

People do not get in on merit – they pay huge donations – eg – Manipal college. – Totally shameless. 2. You pay to get in – you can also pay to pass. 3. If you do not know what you are doing – naturally you are literally ‘playing God’. So what are we left with – QUACKS by the dozen. That is why I think if some fear is instilled such foul play will lessen. ??? Am starting another new topic on another issue that is close to my heart after the Jessica Lal forum. The recent strike by resident doctors in Mumbai’s JJ Hospital because a relative of a victim who died – slapped a doctor caused headlines for several days.

My take on this matter is that the Public slaps, verbal and physical abuse,vandalising of hospitals etc is due to the fact that there is no other way to bring negligent Doctors to book in this country. That is why there are more and more instances of public outrage. What is more dangerous is the fact that these doctors who have caused such deaths – CONTINUE to treat patients and put them at risk with their ‘little’ knowledge. And last night NDTV debated about this because a one Dr Saha is suing 4 Kolkotta doctors for Rs 77. 7 crore for negligence for his wife’s death.

So my question is Should such Doctors be tried for negligence and be punished in a court of law or not? If so what sort of court should try them – like the military have a Martial law ! How long can we allow these so called ‘quacks’ to get away with murder??? 18 Mar 2006 07:03 pm 14 Rumhona, Totally agree with what you have said about money taking precedence over merit. Medical colleges operating out of rented premises, lacking basic infrastructure. “Deemed” universities, sprouting like mushrooms after the rains, with no one to check or monitor the quality of teh education they provide or the “doctors” they produce.

What is practiced by such “doctors” is criminal, no question of negligence. Unfortunately we have two sets of laws in India, one for the rich and one for the poor, this has been amply demonstrated in the recent past. Despite all this each case has to be judged on its merits. Negligence as defined by law, “is not doing that which a reasonable doctor would do”. Now what a reasonable doctor would do, is there in black and white, in teh text books. But no text book can describe ALL the medical conditions and the complicating factors.

Medicine is also subjective, so things can get tricky. Every view put forward by an expert will be refuted by another equally qualified expert. (An expert being one who knows more and more about less and less, till eventually he knows every thing about nothing. )Finally, the quality of medicine practiced in India is pretty miserable. My wife who is diabetic and hypertensive, was nearly killed by a consultant, who could not see beyond the infection he was treating. Eventually, I had to bring her down to my hospital where she began recovering in 24 hours.

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