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Parmanand Katara vs. Union of India

Parmanand Katara vs. Union of India & Ors
Citations: 1989 Air 2039, 1989 Scr (3) 997, 1989 Scc (4) 286, Jt 1989 (3)496 1989 Scale (2)380, Bench: Misra Rangnath, Date of judgment: on 28 August, 1989

Introduction:
This case has enlarged the scope and jurisprudence of emergency medical care in India. This is a landmark judgment pronounced by Supreme Court which made it obligatory for a doctor or a hospital both public and private to provide immediate medical aid to a victim of a road accident.

No more lame excuses like ďit seems to be a medico legal case; take the patient to the Government HospitalĒ. This judgment is viewed as one of the best outcome/ achievement of PIL.

Facts:
The petitioner, who claims himself to be a human right activist, filed this writ petition in public interest on the basis of a newspaper report concerning the death of a scooterist who was knocked down by a speeding car. The report further states that the injured person was taken to the nearest hospital but the doctors there refused to attend on him; that they told that he should be taken to another hospital, located some 20 kilometers away, which was authorized to handle medico-legal cases. The scooterist died while he was being transported to the other hospital.

Provisions:
Article 21 of Indian constitution, clause 12 and clause 13 of Code of Medical Ethics, 1970

Issue:
Whether a person can be allowed treatment by the hospital authorities in accident cases, without having to follow several legal formalities before the victim is rendered medical aid.

Petitionerís contention:
The petitioner has prayed the directions be issued 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 for negligence, appropriate compensation should be admissible.

Clause 12 and clause 13 of Code of Medical Ethics, 1970 represent the duty imposed on doctors and practitioners to serve and treat those injured to their best without rescuing themselves from performing their professional duty. A detailed reading of Clause 13 further connotes that it strictly barred willful negligence by the practitioners in order to establish the same degree of care and skill while dealing with emergency cases which clearly indicated that even the Medical Council itself has professional expectations from the practitioners.

Contrary to the Code of 1970, other legislations including the Cr.P.C, The Indian Penal Code, or the Motor Vehicles Act didnít restrict from providing medical treatment before completing formalities. Human life is indubitably more valuable than prioritizing to get done with formalities first and to ensure the same, required amendments would have to be effectuated soon to be able to provide immediate medical care and relief to the injured ones.

Respondentís contention:
The contention of the respondents was on the same line as of the petitioner, however, with more input towards covering the legal aspects and measures incorporated by them.

It was contended that the hindrance in this process is said to be caused by statutory requirements to fulfill all the required legal formalities in the presence of a police officer before administering treatment to the victim. One of the respondents, the Indian Medical Council raised two relevant clauses of the Code of Medical Ethics, 1970 that imposed duty and obligation upon the doctors and medical practitioners to render their professional services.

The two relevant clauses contented by the Respondents are as discussed below:
Clause 10 of the 1970 code stated that a physician was not bound to treat every sick person. However, in emergency situations like victims of road accidents, it would be an obligation on a practitioner to be ready to respond and render his service in the time of need.

On the other hand, clause 13 of the code provided that the freedom of practitioners to choose whom to serve would be available to them, except for the case of emergencies. It also further states that a medical practitioner should not withdraw himself from treating or attending someone and barred willful commission of negligence.

Judgment:
Based on the petition, the Supreme Court held that:
  1. Article 21 of the Constitution casts the duty on the State to preserve life.
     
  2. There can be no second opinion that preservation of human life is of paramount importance. Once a life is lost, it cannot be restored as resurrection is beyond the capacity of man. Every doctor, whether at a government hospital or otherwise, has the professional obligation to extend his or her services with due expertise for protecting life.
     
  3. There is no legal impediment for a medical professional when he or she is called upon or requested to attend to an injured person needing his or her medical assistance immediately. There is also no doubt that the effort to save the person should be the top priority not only of the medical professional but even of the police or any other citizen who happens to be connected with the matter or who happens to notice such an incident or a situation.
     
  4. Lawyers and judges and everyone concerned should also keep in mind that a man in the medical profession should not be unnecessarily harassed for purposes of interrogation or for any other formality and should not be dragged during investigations at the police station. This should be avoided as far as possible.
     
  5. The patient whether he be an innocent person or 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 maybe protected and the guilty may be punished. Social laws do not contemplate death by negligence to tantamount to legal Punishment.
     
  6. Every doctor whether at a Government hospital or otherwise has the professional obligation to extend his services with due expertise for protecting life.
     
  7. No law or State action can intervene to avoid/delay the discharge of the paramount obligation cast upon members of the medical profession. The obligation being total, absolute and paramount, laws of procedure whether in statute or otherwise which would interfere with the discharge of this obligation cannot be sustained and must, therefore, give way.
     
  8. The Court gave directions for giving adequate publicity to the decision in this case by the national media, the Doordarshan and the all India Radio, as well as through the High Courts and the Sessions Judges.

Conclusion:
Article 21 of Constitution casts the obligation on the State to preserve life. The provision as explained by this Court in scores of decisions has emphasized 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.

No law or State action can intervene to avoid/delay the discharge of the paramount obligation cast upon members of the medical profession. The obligation being total, absolute and paramount, laws of procedure whether in statutes or otherwise which would interfere with the discharge of this obligation cannot be sustained and must, therefore, give way.

The learned judge opined that there were no impediments caused by the legislative framework that barred a practitioner from giving treatment. He also added that this duty of saving lives rested with the public and police as well and that apprehensions about the same had to be cleared for all.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Anamanamudi Sabari Deeksha Choudary
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: AP112050951560-30-0421

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