The petition was filed by Pt. Parmanand Katara, a human rights activist fighting for the good causes for the general public interest under article 32 of the constitution, asking for a direction from the Hon.
Court 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.
He appended to the writ petition, a report entitled “Law helps the injured to die” published in 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 authorized to handle Medicolegal 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 and Family Welfare of the Union of India and the Indian Medical Association were later impleaded as respondents.
The Secretary of Medical Council of India in his affidavit referred to Clause 10 and 13 of the Code of Medical Ethics drawn up with the approval of the Central Government under Section 33 of the Act by the Council, wherein it had been said:
Clause 10. Obligation to the sick: Though a physician is not bound to treat each and every one asking his services except in emergencies, for the sake of humanity and the noble traditions of the profession, he should not only be ever ready to respond to the calls of the sick and the injured, but should be mindful of the high character of his mission and the responsibility he incurs in the discharge of his ministrations, he should never forget that the health and the lives of those entrusted to his care depend on his skill and attention.
Clause 13. The patient must not be neglected: A physician is free to choose whom he will serve. He should, however, respond to any request for his assistance in an emergency or whenever temperate public opinion expects the service.
Once having undertaken a case, the physician should not neglect the patient, nor should he withdraw from the case without giving notice to the patient, His relatives or his responsible friends sufficiently long in advance of his withdrawal to allow them to secure another medical attendant.
It was held that:
Article 21 of the constitution casts the obligation on the state to preserve 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 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 guidelines indicated in the 1985 decision of the Committee under the chairmanship of DGHS, is to become operative. These guidelines provide:
“Whenever any Medicolegal case attends the hospital the medical officer on duty should inform the Duty Constable, name, age, sex of the patient and place and time of occurrence of the incident, and should start the required treatment of the patient.
It will be the duty of the Constable on duty to inform the concerned police station or higher police functionaries for further action.
Full medical report should be prepared and given to the police, as soon as examination and treatment of the patient is over. The treatment of the patient would not wait for arrival of the police or completing the legal formalities.
The Medicolegal cases coming to hospital on their own (even if the incident has occurred in the zone of other hospital) will not be denied treatment by the hospital where the case reports, nor the case will be referred to other hospital because the incident has occurred in the area which belongs to the zone of any other hospital.”
All government hospitals, medical institutes should be asked to provide the immediate medical aid to all the cases irrespective of the fact whether they are Medicolegal or otherwise.
“When a man in a miserable state hanging between life and death reaches the medical practitioner in a hospital (run or managed by the state) public authority or a private person or a medical practitioner doing only practice, he is always called upon to rush to help such an injured person and to do all that is within power to save life.
It is a duty coupled with human instinct which needs neither decision nor any code of ethics nor any rule of law.”
“There is no legal impediment for a medical professional when he is called upon or requested to attend to an injured person needing his assistance immediately.
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.
At the same time, it is hoped that the police, the members of the legal profession, law courts and everyone concerned will 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 and it should be avoided as far as possible.
It is also hoped that the law courts will not summon a medical professional to give evidence unless the evidence is necessary and even if he is summoned, attempt should be made to see that the men in this profession are not made to wait and waste time unnecessarily.
It is expected of the members of the legal profession to honor the persons in the medical profession and see that they are not called to give the evidence so long as it is not necessary. It is also expected that where the facts are so clear, unnecessary harassment of the members of the medical profession either by way of request for adjournments or by cross-examination should be avoided.”
“Whenever on such occasions, a man of the medical profession is approached and he finds that whatever assistance he could give is not sufficient really to save the life of the person but some better assistance is necessary, it is also the duty of the man in the medical profession so approached to render all the help which he could and also see that the person reaches the expert as early as possible.